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Monday, April 24, 2006

Charlotte, BBC bring a little hope

From Bust and Bloom. The BBC's new production of Jane Eyre for 2006 is bringing some hope, some stability to those whose lives have been torn apart by the tsunami waves of Boxing Day 2004:

A century and a half after her death, the Victorian novelist Charlotte Brontë is still hard at work, helping tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka.

The way she is achieving this minor miracle is through her novel Jane Eyre, which as well as being the BBC's big costume drama this autumn, also has a drama connected to the costumes.

Step forward actress Christina Cole, who plays Blanche Ingram, Jane's rival for the hand and heart of Mr Rochester. Blessed with beauty and breeding, Blanche has another asset (literally) up her sleeve, in the form of the sumptuous lace frills that adorn her outfits.

Delicate yet showy, this riot of frothy handiwork symbolised, during the 19th century, the wealth and status of those who could afford to wear it. But the real-life, 21st-century person who made the lace is a 65-year-old widow called Leela Wathi, who lives not in Derbyshire (where Jane Eyre is being filmed) but in the tsunami-flattened town of Galle, south-western Sri Lanka. And until recently she described her economic situation as "desperate".

She's just one of a growing network of women whom the celebrated UK costume designer Andrea Galer (Bleak House, Mansfield Park, Withnail and I) has taken under her wing as part of a project to repair the region's lace-making industry, destroyed by the giant waves of Boxing Day 2004.


She was accompanied on her journey by the actress Geraldine James, with whom she had worked on the BBC's dramatisation of Trollope's He Knew He Was Right. The pair made a mini-documentary on the lace-makers' plight, and were both shocked and inspired by what they found.

"As far as we could see, absolutely none of the relief money had got through to them," says James. "That said, there was still this enormous sense of pride and self-reliance; they were insistent that they weren't looking for continual hand-outs; the men just wanted boats, so that they could go out fishing again, and the women only wanted help finding new markets for their work."

And in Galer they found the right woman to provide that help. She has been back to Sri Lanka twice since her original trip (which she undertook during a one-week break in the filming of Bleak House). Each time she has returned to Britain more determined than ever to promote the virtues of Sri Lankan lace and to make use of the material in her productions. She has certainly got her way in Jane Eyre.

'We've been encouraging lacemakers to produce things for which there is a real demand'
"All the well-to-do characters wear lovely jabots (ruffs) made out of Sri Lankan lace, and most have lace frills on the ends of their sleeves," she says. "And I've put lace all round the collar of Jane's wedding dress."

Already, the orders generated by Jane Eyre have provided 20 Sri Lankan lace-makers with two full months' work and, in conjunction with the charity Adopt Sri Lanka, Galer has now set up a lace-making workshop inside the fort at Galle, which was one of the few buildings not destroyed in the tsunami.


You can support the Power Of Hands by buying one of the hand-made lace wristbands shown above, which are available to Telegraph readers for £5 (including p&p).
Send a cheque, payable to the Power Of Hands Foundation, to: POH, The London Film Fashion Centre, 6 Angler's Lane, London NW5 3DG (020 7485 6976).
To see other designs and lace products, and to find out more about the Foundation's work, see the website on www.powerofhandsfoundation.co.uk.

Image is of Christina Cole.

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