Float: Small town swimming pool is stage for Scotland's unexpected love story
A seaside town’s swimming pool might not be the most obvious place for a new Scottish love story to unfold.
But it’s certainly not the most unusual thing about BBC Scotland’s groundbreaking new mini-series Float.
The six-part show, which explores an intense and complex relationship formed between two female lifeguards, is made up of episodes just 10 minutes long.
And the first part of the queer coming-of-age story was shot two years before the remaining episodes, after plans to return to Helensburgh Leisure Centre were held up by the Covid pandemic.
But it is the rare depiction of LGBT+ relationships in small town Scotland that sets Float apart for its creator Stef Smith, one of the country’s leading playwrights.
Float emerged from a BBC Writersroom initiative to commission four 10-minute pilots aimed at younger audiences and launch them on iPlayer as part of a drive to “do drama in new ways”.
Smith was matched up with Glasgow-based producers Black Camel to develop her swimming pool-set story idea, her first screenwriting work, which was then commissioned for a further five episodes after the initial pilot was aired two years ago next month.
Available now on BBC iPlayer, Float focuses on the fragile bond between university dropout Jade, played by Hannah Jarrett-Scot, and Jessica Hardwick’s character Collette. She is in a relationship with their boss at the swimming pool, while Jade is hiding the truth of why she has left Glasgow to return home.
Smith, who was brought up in Aberfoyle, said: “My starting point for Float was what I wanted to see on TV when I was 18 – or really what did I not see that I wanted to see.
"I just never saw small town Scotland on screen in a way that reflected young people – and particularly young LGBT+ young people.“There are certain eccentricities about growing up in a small town that I wanted to convey.
"You’re part of a small community and everyone knows each other more, which is both a good and a bad thing at times. These places are not backwaters where nothing happens - it's quite the opposite. I'm not sure I’d have been a writer if I’d been brought up somewhere else. It really facilitated my imagination and storytelling.
“I also really wanted to tell LGBT+ stories in rural settings. For obvious reasons, there is a natural flocking of people towards urban centres. But I sometimes think we neglect people that haven’t done that.”
Edinburgh-born Jarrett-Scott said: “I thought the script for the series was really intensive, raw and heart-ripping.
“We’ve all had those times in life when nothing is really happening, you don’t have clue what’s going and you’re trying to work out who you are. When I left drama school I was fully out of work for two years and had that real feeling of ‘when is my life going to start?’
“But for me the main thing was the love interest between these two women, as it was so close to my heart and my experiences in life. I just wanted to have shot at playing it authentically.
"Although Jade is very different to me, I could really identify with lots of feelings and emotions in Stef’s script. I also feel there are generations of gay women that have just not seen themselves on screen at all, so it was just brilliant to get an opportunity like this.”
Jarrett-Scott and Hardwick were strangers when they started work on the initial pilot episode in the spring of 2019, but had formed their own personal bond by the time the cameras started rolling again, but this time under strict Covid regulations.
Hardwick, who was brought up in the Borders, said: "We didn’t know each other at all before the pilot, but we became really good mates over the next two years. We see each other all the time and are very much part of each other’s lives.
“We both live in Glasgow so when restrictions eased a bit we were able to meet up and go for walks and talk about the characters’ relationships.
“It was really lovely when we came to film the series to have that foundation of friendship, which we didn’t have when we made the pilot. I felt really comfortable with her all the time and there was a real tenderness there. I think that really translates onto the screen.”
If early reaction to Float on social media is anything to go by, the BBC is like to face pressure to continue the story of Jade and Collette, which is left far from resolved.
Smith said: “I thought Hannah and Jess were just phenomenal. The warmth, humanity and compassion they brought to those characters was such a privilege. It was very moving that they made them their own. There's no doubt in my mind that no-one else can play Jade and Collette.
“I didn’t initially know what was going to happen to the characters – I didn’t plan the whole thing out. But the main thing with the initial pilot was that I knew that I wanted the ensemble of characters to have further to go and future stories to tell.
“There are places I want to take them. I’ve definitely got ideas. I would love to carry on what we’ve started.”
Hardwick said: “For me, Float is about friendship and relationship and the possibility of change and hope.
"But I think it’s also about the messiness of growing up and being in that place in life when you’re not a teenager anymore, but you’ve also not fully worked out who you are or where you’re going.
“So much happens to all the characters over the course of the six episodes, but it would be really interesting to see where they go next.
“Hopefully if audiences enjoy the first series there will be an outcry for a second one, which would be amazing.”