The Return asks a question: what if your mother, the person who loved you unconditionally, no matter how you treated her, suddenly vanished? Would you search for her for the rest of your life? The relationship between mother and daughter with its balance of love and friction can be the most complex and challenging one of our lives.
The Return is a short narrative film directed Shelagh McLeod.
After an international career as an actress, Shelagh wrote, directed, and produced three award-winning short films: David Rose, Run & The Great Escape. Her first feature film as writer/director/ associate producer – Astronaut – won the Berlin JETS program and stars Richard Dreyfuss. Premiering at Edinburgh Film Festival 2019, Astronaut was distributed by Hulu (US) & SKY (UK). The European theatrical release followed. Nexus, her subsequent screenplay, selected by Meryl Streep’s The Writer’s Lab, was shortlisted for Sundance Screenwriters Lab and a finalist for the PAGE screenwriting award. After directing and producing The Return (2022), she produced Ann Hawker’s poignant short film – Fly Free – based on Ann’s award-winning feature film script Austrian Holiday.
What was the inspiration behind the making of The Return?
The Return started off as a proof of concept for a feature script I am working on, about a
woman who goes missing. But the short film script took on a life of its own once I started
developing the idea. My mother died twelve years ago. I wanted to bring her back to life so I
could tell her what I didn’t tell her when she was alive; that I loved her.
Mother/ Daughter relationships can be so complex. I asked myself the questions: When
the mother returns, will old wounds between them open again? Or will the daughter let go
of her anger, allow herself to love, and care for her mother in the short time they have left
together. It’s a kind of fairy tale with a sci fi element.
When did you realize that you wanted to write and direct films? When was the first time you shot a film and what was the first project that you worked on as a director?
I had wanted to write and direct for the longest time. I wrote and directed a test cat food
commercial in my early thirties. It was terrifying being behind the camera instead of in front
of it – but I loved the process. My first proper short film as writer/director was David Rose –
and after working on the script, then shooting the film, I knew that I had found my genre
which is Mystery/Sci fi/ Family. Grounded Near Fi if you like!
What are some of the challenges of being an indie female director in the film industry?
It is finally getting easier – but I am a mature female and we do still get overlooked. There is
a common perception that once a woman hits forty-five, they are finished - we should all
fade into the background and start knitting or something. When I started in this business
there were few female directors - I had probably worked with three or four during most of
my acting career. There are few major roles for mature women in film and TV. It was the
norm when I was a young actor to go up for a role and your male love interest would be in
his 50’s or even 60’s. I would like to see more movies where the leading role is played by an
What is your plan for further distribution of your short film?
We have just recently finished postproduction, so it’s early days for The Return. But I hope
that it will have a nice run at festivals, then we will be seeking someone to partner with after
for the online life.
What are you currently working on?
We are getting our ducks in a row to shoot (fingers crossed) my next feature, early next
year. I also have started working on a first draft of a new project and I recently finished
two other screenplays that I was asked to work on.
You are also an actress with many credits. If you were to choose between directing and acting, which one would you choose and why?
I love being an actor and have been one for a long time. It takes years to hone the craft and
you never stop learning. This is the same as being a director. I had made a few short films,
but I wanted to really learn how to craft a screenplay and learn more about film. I started
university when I was filming a TV series and a BA and MA in Film and creative Writing. It was a challenge for me as I had left school with few exams. But I loved learning in such a
supportive atmosphere. Directing film has been a brilliant experience so far. Like acting –
luck plays a large part in the journey. I feel very fulfilled when I am directing so if I am
honest and I had to choose? Right now, I love being behind the camera.
You also directed a feature which premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2019. What is it like to go from making a feature to a short? Do you want to continue working on both genres?
Good question. Yes. I am working on getting my next feature up on its feet now. I love
working as part of a team – whether it’s on a feature or a short. There is a huge team spirit
when you make a short because you’re in it together and begging a lot of favours. It also
can be a good way to test out a story. Also, I have seen so many brilliant shorts at festivals
and talked with great filmmakers from all over the world. I wouldn’t have missed that for the
There’s a very different kind of pressure and so much at stake with a feature film.
And there is the enormous reward of seeing the feature on the big screen with an
audience before the film starts its journey around the world. A stressful and thrilling
time. I was at the premiere of Astronaut at Edinburgh Film Festival. Being in the
audience and watching everyone’s reaction - I was extremely nervous and very
excited. This thing that you’ve been working on for years is born, it’s out there in the
world, and you can only hope that people connect with the story, and like it!