T’S hard to remember that in the days before the credit crunch banks were eager to lend money and that property prices only everseemed to go up.
Even then Helen Heraty and John Edwards’ decision to plough their respective hard-earned fortunes into turning York’s oldest house into a boutique hotel seemed overly ambitious.
Back in 2007 they admitted it was a ‘Folie a Deux’ – a mutual exchange of madness that gives film-maker Kim Hopkins the title for her documentary about the couple’s ill-fated project.
Kim had no idea where her five-year charting of the couple’s plans would lead to but admitted on a visit to Derby’s QUAD arts centre this week that she figured she would have a film whether they succeeded or not – tragedy or triumph being equally fitting finales.
What no-one expected was for the banks to implode in such spectacular fashion in 2008 and the promised loans to dry up.
Worse still, the value of Grays Court plummeted leaving the couple in negative equity after the bank demanded a new valuation which was well below expectations.
Then John’s architect’s business went into bankruptcy and the couple were left with spiralling debts and no income unless they could get Grays Courts open.
Hopkins’ film has three strands to it, all of which are fascinating. First there’s Helen’s day-to-day battles with her seven children. Then there’s the irate calls and meetings with bankers and accountants and finally a running dispute with the National Trust over the use of the shared courtyard outside the property which descends into playground bickering with the neighbours.
Kim isn’t an idle observer in all of this. You can hear her voice constantly from behind the camera.
“It’s more fly in the ointment than fly on the wall,” she says about her approach.
With John mostly absent through work, it’s Helen who commands the bulk of the film’s time and she’s a natural, seemingly comfortable to share a vast range of emotions with the the ever-present camera.
Grays Court, a Grade 1 listed building set in the shadow of York Minister, is also a star of the film in its own right.
King James I knighted eight noblemen in its Long Gallery and it ranks as one of Britain’s oldest residences, dating back 900 years.
You can understand why Helen is so determined to hold onto it, even when it seems a folly to do so.
Despite the film at first seeming like a struggle by the affluent for more wealth that is distant from most people’s experieence of the recession, there’s something oddly British and endearing about Helen’s obstinate battle against good sense, the banking crisis and even the good folk of the National Trust.
The music for the film is provided by Derby’s rising folk star Lucy Ward, who has just released her second album, Single Flame.
The singer and songwriter, who won a BBC Folk Award for her debut release, was also onhand at QUAD this week to talk about the movie. But it was Helen Heraty who naturally grabbed the most attention.
Her story takes some unexpected twists before the cameras stopped rolling on this documentary (you will have to watch it yourself to see the outcome) but she has no regrets about allowing the film-makers into her life.
“On the whole it was a positive experience,” she says.
Folie a Deux - The Madness of Two has now finished its cinema run at QUAD but it can be seen on BBC4 on November 11 and the iPlayer thereafter. It will also then be released on DVD with 20 minutes of extra footage.