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Screenplay to change perceptions of facial injuries in cinema

A researcher from Nottingham Trent University is writing a World War I screenplay to overcome the stigma in popular film culture against people with facial injuries.

William Spreckley, a lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters
William Spreckley, a lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters
Images courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) Archives

A researcher is writing a World War I screenplay to overcome the stigma in popular film culture against people with facial injuries.

Siân Liddle, a PhD candidate at Nottingham Trent University, says people have been programmed by cinema to associate facial injuries with monstrosity.

Siân’s research focusses on soldiers who were among the first to survive severe facial injuries after being treated by Sir Harold Gillies, a pioneering plastic surgeon at Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup.

She has unearthed various documents and photographs of patients at the hospital to develop an account of their experiences and used these as the basis for the screenplay.

Siân, who’s studying at the university’s School of Arts and Humanities, said: “It’s all too common in popular film culture to give facial scars to the villain as a visual shorthand for evil.

“It has been the same for decades, in the ‘30s with Fritz in Frankenstein, in the ‘80s with Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street and we still see it today with characters like Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars films.

“Many World War I veterans suffered facial injuries fighting for their country, but we are yet to commemorate them in film.

“It’s something that needs to change in British film culture. France paid tribute to their servicemen in the 2001 film Le Chambre des officiers, but we seem reluctant to do the same for some reason.”

Siân’s research includes comparisons with videogames and how they portray ‘evil’ characters. This includes a zombie called ‘Toasty’ in Bioshock, on XBOX 360, which bears a strong resemblance to one of the patients at Queen’s Hospital.

Sian Liddle
Siân Liddle
Siân Liddle

Siân continued: “When you hear the accounts of how some of these men were treated by the society they’d fought for, it shocks you. Multiple stories include verbal abuse in the street and being discriminated against in employment. But what is more shocking is that we continue to shun these men in British film today.

“My research shows that, in truth, far from their scars resulting in a villainous character, many of the servicemen used their experience of facial injury as a positive catalyst, with some commenting that they had been given a broader outlook on life.

“They made new friendships, some married nurses from Queen’s, and many learned new skills that would help them to gain better employment once they left hospital. For instance, a miner before the war could leave Queen’s as a fully trained dental technician.

“It’s important that we celebrate the contribution these men made during the war and that we commemorate them properly.”

Siân’s screenplay will also document many of the techniques pioneered by Sir Harold. These include the tubed pedicle, a procedure in which tissue is grafted to a person’s face from another part of the body in a tubular shape to protect exposed tissue from infection.

Dr Sharon Ouditt, lead supervisor of the study at Nottingham Trent University, said: “Siân has undertaken in-depth research and will relay her findings in a pioneering way by presenting them as part of a screenplay.

“In doing so, she hopes to give recognition to soldiers with facial injuries and to counterbalance the unfortunate association in cinema between facial injuries and malevolence of character.”

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Chris Birkle, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 2310, or via email; or Dave Rogers, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782, or via email.

    For permission to publish any of the images of patients from the Gillies patient files please contact the Archives at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) via email:

    Nottingham Trent University was named Modern University of the Year in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018. The award recognises NTU for its strong student satisfaction, quality of teaching, overall student experience and engagement with employers.

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is one of the largest UK universities with nearly 28,000 students and more than 3,500 staff across four campuses, contributing £496m to the UK economy every year. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly universities, containing some of the country’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.

    The University is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. The University is the sixth biggest recruiter of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the country and 95.6% of its graduates go on to employment or further education within six months of leaving.

    NTU is home to world-class research, winning The Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015 - the highest national honour for a UK university. The prize recognised pioneering projects to improve the detection of weapons and explosives in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula and combat food fraud.

    With an international student population of approximately 2,600 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook and seeks to attract talented students and staff from across the world

    Further info on the work of Sir Harold Gillies is available in a book by BAPRAS Gillies Archivist Dr Andrew Bamji which was used as part of the study

Screenplay to change perceptions of facial injuries in cinema

Published on 3 January 2018
  • Category: Press office; School of Arts and Humanities

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