Brian Beacom

A NEWSPAPER ad, which appealed for help in finding a runaway slave, as if she were a dog, has inspired a new film by two sisters from Glasgow.

The film, 1745, was developed by the Akande sisters, Moyo and Morayo from Bearsden, daughters of Nigerian immigrants.

The sisters both act in the film as slaves, alongside acting veteran Clive Russell, who plays the slave owner.

And Morayo has written the script, with all its Revenant-like terror, which won a place in the Scottish Film Shorts scheme last year.

But if Scotland didn’t know – or choose to know – of its direct links to slavery in the 18th century, that it was at the very heart of the British slavery for almost two hundred years before it halted in 1833, it will now.

Morayo explains the genesis of the film.

“I’d been researching Scotland’s history and I wanted to write a period drama about people of colour in Scotland because it’s something we don’t know very much about.

“I came across a newspaper advert in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library, from 1745, which had been placed by the master of a runaway slave.

“The ad mentioned the girl’s name, Anne, described her dress and said she spoke some English.

“I was shocked that these ads were actually being run in 18th century Scotland, the sort of ad people would run if their dog had run away.”

Morayo continued to research Scotland’s slave history.

The writer, who has also studied drama in London and America, felt compelled to develop the story, fictionalising an account of two slaves, Rebecca (Morayo ) and Emma (Moyo)

Moyo, who has been a model before turning to acting and appearing in the likes of Macbeth at the Globe Theatre “jumped on board completely” when she saw Morayo’s research.

“I was so shocked to learn there were so many people of colour living in Scotland at that time. (Around 100 slaves). And in such horrible circumstances. It certainly wasn’t something I was taught at school.”

Teachers perhaps wouldn’t have known of Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade, that it was part of our merchants’ investment in the tobacco, cotton and sugar trade with America’s southern states and the West Indies.

The second city of the Empire was to an extent built on the profits made from the use, and abuse, of slaves.

But this involvement has since been swept under the tartan carpet.

“The slaves would have been taken from an African country and on to Virginia,” says Moyo.

“That’s where the Scots traders would have bought them, to bring them back here.”

Slave owners, says Moyo, dressed their captives in their own image, treated them as they chose.

“Dressing the slaves up in elaborate clothing was a status thing, a way of showing their wealth and power. They would have to do laborious tasks and much more.

“They wouldn’t be running away if there weren’t mental anguish and physical abuse going on.

“The placement of ads was about these men not wanting to give up on their property, and to save face.”

The Akandes came from Nigeria, (their father is a chemical engineer) one of the countries ravaged by slave traders in the 18th century.

The sisters suffered racial abuse when they first came to Glasgow, at school in Pollok.

The abuse abated however when the family moved to Bearsden.

Does the discovery of what the likes of Emma and Rebecca suffered impact on their perception of Scotland now?

“No, we are sure of our feelings for Scotland, although it was a shock to learn of it because it was a different time,” says Morayo.

Moyo adds; “Yet, it’s not as if slavery had ended. It’s still happening in Scotland today with human trafficking.

“But it’s no longer about colour. However, making this film is a way of getting across to people what humans are still capable of.”

The story focuses on the relationship between the two sisters - and reveals what they are prepared to do to break free of the clutches of their owner.

Emma, we learn has been sleeping with the master. Not from choice. She determines this is the only way to protect her younger sister from his advances.

“Rebecca doesn’t really understand the situation,” says Moyo. “She is thinking ‘Why would we even want to run away? We’re being fed, we have certain comforts and we’re not worse off that other people in Scotland.’”

The film offers a real sense of isolation the runaways feel.

“How are they going to blend into in the Highlands of Scotland, running around with their tartan dresses?” says Morayo?

There is cold terror in every scene. But there was also freezing cold water to endure as the pair ended up in a river. It’s fair to say this wasn’t a glamourous film shoot.

“Thankfully, we had a brilliant production team with us to make sure we didn’t suffer from hypothermia,” says Morayo, offering a grateful smile.

“But it was important to show what people would have endured.”

Meantime, the sisters are working to make sure 1745 is seen at film festivals across the world.

If the Edinburgh Film Festival were not to screen this film it would more of a shock than jumping into a freezing Scots loch in winter.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” says Moyo, her fingers crossed.

• 1745 A Scottish Film Talent Network Production in association with Compact Pictures and Larsen Films, will launch this summer.