LITTLE SWEETHEART: Capturing Memory
An elderly man in a London care home, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, relates his memories of his sister, once a silent movie child star in early Hollywood and long since presumed dead, before all recollection of her and their time together has gone forever. But life still has an extraordinary surprise in store for him.
It’s 2003. Peregrine (Perry) Browne, aged 93, living in a downmarket London care home, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and wants to tell his story before his memory goes forever.
Journalist Meghan Wilkes from the local newspaper is sent to take notes.
The young reporter becomes hooked on what the old man has to tell about his sister, Mereille (Merry), a year older than himself, with whom he had the usual childhood sibling fun, laughs, tears and adventures at and around their home in England.
Till in 1918, at the age of 9, Mereille was taken by their ambitious mother across the Atlantic to Hollywood in the hope of breaking into films, while Perry, aged 8, and their father stayed in England, completely severing both sides of the family.
Little Sweetheart and Fame
Mereille subsequently became famous as a child star of the silent screen, in the character of ‘Little Sweetheart’, in the cinematic world of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. She appeared in dozens of 2-reelers with a ‘moral’ or life-message and, as such, was known affectionately throughout the world before the advent of sound.
The elderly Peregrine tells the journalist of how, not having seen her since they were children, Mereille reappeared in his debt-ridden life in 1933 at the age of 24, dazzlingly beautiful in her Hollywood finery, at first unrecognisable to him with platinum blonde hair, in his ramshackle bungalow at the sugar plantation he was running at a financial loss in Zululand.
Having failed to make a successful transition to adult actress, Mereille had decided to seek out her ‘little’ brother again, spit on her hands, roll up her sleeves and help to rescue him from the destructive effects of the Great Depression with her Little Sweetheart fortune.
But there’s an ongoing mystery from those far-off times, for Mereille vanished in the African jungle in 1935 and was never heard of again, having been connected with the death of the District Officer Denzil Grantley-Adams found shot in a jungle pool.
Was Mereille the killer? Why and how did she disappear into the jungle immediately following the death of Grantley-Adams, whom she had inappropriately married, never to be seen again and with a murder charge hanging over her? What was the real story?
The elderly Peregrine tells the journalist that he now knows the answer because his sister visits him in dreams and is telling her story to him, vividly and telepathically, in what she would have termed ‘3-colour Technicolor and full sound’ from beyond the grave.
But are these the ramblings of a dementia sufferer? Or can there be any truth in what the old man is saying when he recollects the crazy re-evocation of their lost childhood together – a dazzlingly funny, tender idyll recreated in the seemingly enchanted surroundings of the sugar plantation flanked by romantic jungle?
Has Mereille really somehow communicated to her brother in his increasingly confused dreams the catastrophic consequences of their reunion all those years ago which forced her to face her own reality and adulthood at last when she discovered that life isn’t like it is in the movies and led her to horror and despair?
Yet that same life can still hold surprises for an increasingly befuddled man of 93 trying with increasing difficulty to remember all that sunshine in foreign climes, the gut-wrenching work in drenching heat, the mad fun, outrageous pranks at the snooty Planters’ Club, drunken moments of strange glory, heartbreaking love and ‘unforgettable’ moments soon to be forgotten.
For, perhaps even for Peregrine, before his memories finally vanish forever, magical things may still be about to happen…
Requirements for Little Sweethert
Locations: Los Angeles, Africa, UK (early-mid 1930s/2003)
Main characters: 3 female (24, 47, 94); 3 male (23, 35, 93)
The complete, WGA-registered screenplay of Little Sweetheart is available.
For more details or media enquiries please contact my AGENT
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