Parents are being given an eye-opening glimpse into the reality of post-exam teen holidays in a new film inspired by a director’s experience of sexual assault at the age of 16.
How To Have Sex tells the story of three teenage girls on a coming-of-age trip to Malia in all its gritty, dark detail.
The movie, which picked up the Un Certain Regard award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival with an eight-minute standing ovation, highlights the real-life dangers many young women experience on their adventures away from home.
It echoes the harrowing ordeal suffered by director Molly Manning Walker, who was herself subjected to an attack as a teenager after her drink was spiked on a night out, before being stonewalled by police when she reported it.
Following its release today, one viewer said: ‘How to Have Sex made me feel quite grubby, like I’ve emerged from someone’s flat after an afters but it’s REALLY good and pretty devastating.’
Manning Walker spoke this week of feeling ‘really sad’ in workshopping for the film when respondents could not identify where sexual consent was and wasn’t given.
Similarly, Mia McKenna-Bruce, who stars as protagonist Tara, revealed how she was inspired by her 16-year-old sister while making the film, and how it could educate her on the potential dangers of such holidays.
How To Have Sex tells the story of three teenage girls on a coming-of-age trip to Malia in all its gritty, dark detail (Pictured: Mia McKenna-Bruce playing Tara)
Molly Manning Walker (right, pictured with Mia Mckenna Bruce) made the film after her own experiences of being sexually assaulted aged 16
She added that while there are plenty of movies about sex for older people, there are few for younger generation are so formative.
Speaking of her sister, she told Glamour: ‘She’s at that age of navigating who she’s becoming. If I’d had a film like this… I think that would have made my time a hell of a lot easier.’
How to Have Sex follows three 16-year-olds, Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis), who go abroad to have the ‘best holiday ever’ with Tara hoping to have sex for the first time.
Yet their friendship is far from perfect: while Tara struggles to come to terms with the awful experiences she is subjected to at the hands of a group of boys they meet on the island, Em is rather clueless while Skye is chronically insecure and jealous, leaning towards open hostility.
The group initially seem to have an alcohol-fuelled fun fest – until they meet a group of boys, with Paddy (played by Samuel Bottomley) and Badger (Shaun Thomas) initially becoming close pals.
The holiday soon takes a sour turn after teenager Paddy reveals his violent tendancies as he coerces a vulnerable, blackout-drunk Tara and sexually assaults her – with the all out, wild desperation portrayed in the film leaving the viewer in no doubt as to the get-up, do-it-all-again-tomorrow cycle Manning Walker portrays.
The sexual assaults are never called rape in the film – just as with assaults in real life, the incidents are not clear cut.
Speaking to the Times, Walker explained this is exactly the impression she wanted to create.
She said: ‘We did workshops around the UK where we interviewed young people about their concept of consent and gave them scenes from the film to read.
‘So many girls and boys were like, ‘She said yes, so that’s consent.’ Or, ‘Well, she didn’t get out of the bed, so it’s not an assault.’ That made me really sad. We think there’s all this progression about young people and sex, but nothing has changed. In fact, it might be getting worse.’
Manning Walker, who began her career as a cinematographer, suffered a similar experience when she was 16 after her drink was spiked on a night out.
When she took the case to the police, they told her not to push forward with the report, even though the assailant already had a criminal record.
The holiday soon takes a sour turn after teenager Paddy (Samuel Bottomley) reveals his violent tendancies as he coerces a vulnerable, blackout-drunk Tara and sexually assaults her
Molly Manning Walker and Mia Mckenna-Bruce brought the script to life as they show the darker side to being a teenage girl
Manning Walker said that the sexual predator eventually faced prison for a bank robbery, which made her question why he could be charged for that and not for hurting someone.
It was only when discussing other incidents with friends at a wedding and realising they all had similar experiences that she began writing the script for How To Have Sex, before it was picked up and funded by Film4.
Due to her own experiences of sexual assault, creating a welcoming and safe atmosphere on set was key for the young director.
The set would be closed and an intimacy coach was around at all times to ensure all the actors felt comfortable.
Manning Walker described how filming was often paused so that all involved could discuss what was happening and ensure everyone felt comfortable before picking the scene back up again.
Now she hopes the film will eventually make its way into schools as part of sex education.
She told the Times: ‘My message to boys and girls is, we need to change how we learn how to have sex. We need to start talking about female pleasure, good sex and consent, empathy and understanding.
‘It’s not about ‘men are bad’. The aim isn’t to lock boys out or point fingers. I just want to open a conversation about it.’
The early success of the film was unexpected for a directorial debut – but it took the Cannes festival completely by surprise.
And Manning Walker is experienced in the film world, having worked on countless projects before turning to a writer/director for How To Have Sex.
Her mother, Lesley Manning, is an editor turned director most well known for Ghostwatch (1992) and Help (2019). She also worked on television classics such as The Story of Tracy Beaker and Ghosts.
Ghostwatch, a pseudo-documentary, was so successful it prompted 30,000 complaints to the BBC after it was aired from people who were convinced it was real – and was banned from being shown by the broadcaster for ten years.
Manning Walker’s father is a writer and creator while even her brother Charlie works in the same world as a lighting director.
He is also frontman of Chubby and the Gang, a punk band, with his sister directing his music videos.
But the family hasn’t always been so successful. The young director has previously spoken of a ‘really hard time’ as a child when ‘no-one was earning money’.
Elsewhere in the film, cast in the starring role is famed child actress Mia McKenna-Bruce, who shot to attention in her role in The Story of Tracy Beaker spin-offs Tracy Beaker Returns and The Dumping Ground.
Since then she’s appeared in Persuasion, Vampire Academy and an episode of Netflix-hit series The Witcher.
Her opposite co-star Samuel Bottomley also began acting young, appearing in popular TV series such as Wolf Hall, Ackley Bridge and Ladhood.
He is well-known for Ghost Stories (2017) and Tyrannosaur (2011).