MAN OF COLOUR
A Screenplay by Martin Keady
Based on a true story
OPENING 10 PAGES
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A caption appears: “LONDON. 1900.”
Fade up to:
1. EXT. PLAYGROUND. DAY.
TWO BLACK BOYS, EDWARD (10) and WALTER (nine), sit on a wall, watching SEVERAL WHITE BOYS play with a heavy leather football. They watch for a few moments as THE WHITE BOYS boot the ball around aimlessly between them. Finally, the ball trickles towards the wall before stopping in front of WALTER, so he gets off the wall and picks it up.
A CHUBBY WHITE BOY comes over: like EDWARD and WALTER, he wears long shorts, a shirt and sleeveless jumper, and scuffed shoes. WALTER holds the ball out in front of him, offering it back.
Can we play?
EDWARD (who is still sitting on the wall) looks anxious. Then THE CHUBBY WHITE BOY snatches the ball from WALTER.
CHUBBY WHITE BOY:
Piss off, nigger!
For a split-second, WALTER looks devastated (indeed he looks as if he might start to cry), but then -
Fuck you, fatty!
THE CHUBBY WHITE BOY looks stunned for a moment, as if he can’t quite believe what he has heard, while EDWARD immediately jumps off the wall to stand beside WALTER.
CHUBBY WHITE BOY:
What did you say?
Are you deaf as well as fat? I said, “Fuck you, fatty”.
THE CHUBBY WHITE BOY takes a step towards WALTER, but before he can do anything WALTER begins hitting him, his arms flailing as he throws punches at him; most miss, but some connect. As THE OTHER WHITE BOYS come running, EDWARD forces himself between THE CHUBBY WHITE BOY and WALTER, and pushes WALTER away. Then he turns to THE CHUBBY WHITE BOY, who still looks stunned.
I’m sorry. He didn’t mean it.
WALTER (calling out):
Yes, I did. He is fat!
ALL THE WHITE BOYS, who have gathered around THE CHUBBY ONE, look amazed, as if they, too, cannot believe what is happening. Before they can do anything, however, EDWARD pushes WALTER away. When he has pushed WALTER far enough away to prevent THE WHITE BOYS getting at him, he looks at him angrily.
Do you want to get beaten up?
He started it!
I don’t care! (Pause.) Let’s just go and play on our own.
But we always play on our own!
Then be grateful you’ve got me, otherwise you’d have no-one to play with.
This prospect obviously alarms WALTER.
I suppose so.
Well, I know for sure. If I wasn’t here, they’d be kicking you around, not the ball. Now come on...I’ll be “it”.
He touches WALTER on the shoulder (to make him “It”) and runs away: WALTER sighs heavily, then starts trotting after him.
2. INT. CHURCH. DAY.
EDWARD and WALTER are wearing pristine white surplices, or gowns, and they are singing beautifully. They are the only black children in the choir: ALL THE OTHER BOYS AND GIRLS (about thirty in total) are white. Led by the HEAD CHORISTER (a smiling, middle-aged, kindly-looking woman who is also wearing a surplice), THE CHOIR reaches the climax of their hymn: “NEARER MY GOD TO THEE”.
When they stop singing, there is complete silence for a moment. Then there is loud, appreciative applause from the CONGREGATION, who are all WHITE and smartly, if conservatively, dressed: the WOMEN all in dresses and hats; the MEN all in suits and ties.
A VICAR steps out in front of the CHOIR, still applauding: finally, he puts a hand up and the applause slowly dies away. He addresses the congregation and when he speaks it is with a strong Scottish (to be precise, Glaswegian) accent.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the boys and girls of the Bethnal Green Orphanage Choir, who have come all the way from London to tour Scotland. Please give them a warm Glaswegian welcome!
He starts applauding again and the CONGREGATION follow suit. THE BOYS and GIRLS of the choir, including EDWARD and WALTER, look surprised: they are obviously unused to such adulation.
3. INT. CHURCH. DAY.
The service is over and ALL THE CHILDREN IN THE CHOIR, including EDWARD and WALTER, have taken off their pristine white surplices to reveal their own shabby and torn clothes underneath. They eat the sandwiches, scones and cakes laid on for them: in fact, they stuff them into their mouths as quickly as they can. (They are obviously also unused to such a feast.)
As EDWARD and WALTER continue to stuff food into their mouths, THE HEAD CHORISTER approaches them.
Edward, may I have a word with you, please?
EDWARD swallows the last of his sandwich and goes over to her. WALTER, looking suspicious, watches him go, then follows him.
THE HEAD CHORISTER puts an arm around EDWARD to turn him away from WALTER, so WALTER has to peer round her to see EDWARD.
Edward, I’d like you to meet Mr and Mrs Warnock.
She indicates a WHITE, MIDDLE-AGED COUPLE standing to one side. MRS WARNOCK, a plump, friendly-looking woman, comes forward with her hand outstretched towards EDWARD.
EDWARD takes her hand and shakes it, firmly.
Hello, Mrs Warnock. It’s very nice to meet you.
Still holding his hand, MRS WARNOCK looks impressed.
What beautiful manners!
HEAD CHORISTER (smiling proudly):
They’re almost as beautiful as his voice!
MRS WARNOCK lets go of EDWARD’s hand and turns to her HUSBAND, a thin, angular, unpleasant-looking man, who is hanging back.
See? I knew he was the one.
MR WARNOCK (grumpily, and audibly):
I don’t see what’s wrong with the white ones.
MRS WARNOCK (angrily):
Well, I want a black one.
She turns back round to face EDWARD and THE HEAD CHORISTER, and as she does so she stops looking angry and starts smiling again. Seeing EDWARD and THE HEAD CHORISTER looking at her quizzically, she looks a little embarrassed.
You see, my husband and I were not fortunate enough to have children of our own, so we want to adopt.
HEAD CHORISTER (nodding):
We’d like to adopt a wee bairn, one who’s helpless – abandoned by everyone else. And who could be more helpless than a wee black bairn?
THE HEAD CHORISTER looks a little surprised by this comment.
MRS WARNOCK (indicating EDWARD):
So we’ll take him.
EDWARD looks confused and THE HEAD CHORISTER looks uneasy.
It’s not quite as straightforward as that, Mrs Warnock.
HEAD CHORISTER (shaking her head):
No. For one thing, Edward has a younger brother, Walter.
She steps aside to reveal WALTER, who by now has finished eating and is looking up at them all questioningly.
Edward and Walter are very close. They always have been, especially since they came to the orphanage. If it’s at all possible, we would like them to remain together.
Obviously hearing this, MR WARNOCK speaks up.
I’m not taking two of them!
Again MRS WARNOCK looks at him angrily, then turns back round.
What my husband is trying to say is that we can only afford to support one child.
MR WARNOCK (calling out):
Aye. I’m a dentist, not an industrialist.
She considers this for a moment, then leans down to face EDWARD.
In that case, Edward, you’d better say goodbye.
EDWARD looks surprised and WALTER looks horrified.
4. INT. CHURCH. DAY.
EDWARD and WALTER stand near the church entrance and EDWARD has a little suitcase at his feet. WALTER looks at him tearfully.
But why can’t I come?
EDWARD sighs: he has obviously already tried to explain to WALTER what is happening, but now – slowly, patiently – tries again.
I told you: they can only afford to keep one of us.
Then why didn’t they pick me?
EDWARD (with a sigh):
I told you: I tried to get them to pick you instead of me, as you’re the youngest, but Mrs Warnock said she wanted me and no-one else.
He looks over at the church door, where MR and MRS WARNOCK are waiting for him: MR WARNOCK still looks upset, even angry; whereas MRS WARNOCK looks ecstatic and, seeing EDWARD looking over at her, waves at him excitedly. EDWARD waves back half-heartedly, then turns back to WALTER.
Apparently, she wants me to sing to her while she’s doing the housework.
I can sing!
I know, but not as well as me.
WALTER looks down at the floor so EDWARD puts an arm around him.
I tried everything, Wal’: I tried to get them to adopt you too; I tried to get them to adopt you, instead of me. But they wouldn’t listen.
WALTER looks as if he is about to burst into tears.
But Mrs Warnock said that I can write to you, and you can write to me, and when we’re bigger – when we’re both grown up! – you can come and live with me in Scotland.
WALTER looks up at him hopefully.
EDWARD (nodding vigorously):
Suddenly, MRS WARNOCK calls out to EDWARD.
Edward darling, we’ve got to go.
EDWARD (turning and forcing a smile):
He turns back round to face WALTER and for a moment, THE TWO BOYS just stand there, not knowing what else to do. Eventually, EDWARD puts out his hand towards WALTER: WALTER stares at it for a moment, as if unsure what to do with it. Finally, he takes hold of it, limply, and they shake hands. They stop shaking hands and EDWARD stares at WALTER, looking as if he too, even though he is older, might start to cry. Then he picks up his suitcase and goes over to join MRS WARNOCK: he turns back one last time to wave to WALTER.
WALTER stands there, distraught, staring at EDWARD.
VOICE OFF (GIRL):
Hard luck, Golly.
WALTER turns and sees A LITTLE WHITE GIRL, who is still in her surplice but stuffing cake into her mouth, like a greedy angel.
WALTER looks confused, unsure whether she means to console him (which she is) or insult him (which, unintentionally, she has).
Then he looks back at the doorway to the church, but there is no longer anyone there.