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Screenplay: Running, Reading, Learning French ~ A COVID-19 Story

Last updated on 31st July 2020

Prologue: Running, Reading, Learning French is a story of isolation. Fearful of catching COVID-19, Iris detaches herself from society and her family while slowly descending into a state of mental unwellness. But she isn’t the only one keeping secrets, and life is only about to get worse.

Running, Reading, Learning French
Written by Ben Holbrook

Copyright Ben Holbrook – 04/03/20

Shot from an elevated position, an establishing scene shows a
ravishing sunrise casting a soft pink glow over a holiday
Gentle piano music plays. The dawn of a new day. Yet no sense
of joy or excitement is present.
Another establishing shot of a beautiful mobile holiday home
glowing in the early morning light. Smoke bellows from the
chimney in the cold morning air. Birds sing and chirp and
flutter about.
Freshly showered and wearing her favourite silk robe, IRIS
stares deeply into her own face in the mirror.
She's 32 and extremely attractive, though the clinical
precision with which she applies her make up, which is
carefully laid out around her as if it were a surgeon's
utensils, suggests that this ritual is about something other
than vanity.
Dressed smartly in clothes fit for a day at court, IRIS
stands at the kitchen sink, washing her hands in deep
concentration while the kettle boils.
A bottle of bleach sits on the counter, next to the taps. She
only stops when her phone timer rings - 20 seconds.
She pours herself a cup of tea, but only after rinsing the
cup with boiling water.
Sitting down at her pristine kitchen table, IRIS sips tea
from a small white mug and slides on a pair of reading
glasses with one hand, before scrolling through the news on
her phone.
She appears concerned and uneasy about what she sees and puts
the phone down, holding her hand nervously to her face in
She gets up from the table, unable to resist the urge to wash
her hands again in the kitchen sink.
Her dog, CAROLA, vies for her attention.
         I know, 'ola. I know, darlin'... It's
         time for your breakfast, isn't it?
         Yeah? Are you hungry, baby girl? Come
         on then!
IRIS sits back down at the kitchen table and opens up her
She stares directly into the camera, but almost straight
through it. She is both frighteningly pensive and completely
vacant all at once.
After a short beat, she looks down and begins to type.
                   IRIS (V.O.)
              (Gently, as if we are hearing her
              internal voice, while typing)

Dear Mum,

         Forgive me replying by email, but I'm
         afraid my phone signal isn't fantastic
         where I am and I can't seem to make
         calls or send texts. I'm so glad to
         hear you got your prescriptions in the
         end, even if you did have to wait so
         long in the queue - two and a half
         hours is enough to make anyone mad
         (or, worse, ill).
While IRIS's V.O. of her letter writing continues, the camera
cuts to a scene of Iris from some other point in time. We
don't know exactly when it is, but it is clear that is recent
- perhaps the day before, or even the same or following day.
While her V.O. continues, IRIS is watching the news on TV and


becoming increasingly unsettled. She is swiping at her phone
frantically and checking for updates on the official health
organisation website.
                   IRIS (V.O.)
              (Gently, as if we are hearing her
              internal voice)
         I hope you kept your distance. You'd
         never imagine it could be so difficult
         for people to simply stand two metres
         apart. It's hardly a lot to ask. But
         everyone's so silly around here.
         I was waiting to go into the
         supermarket yesterday. They were
         making us line up outside and only
         letting in a few customers at a time.
         There was one man who got out of his
         van and walked as close as he possibly
         could to all the people in the line as
         he went to the back. Honestly, the
         stupidity! As if all this is just a
IRIS sits down on a chair in the kitchen. She is wearing
colourful workout gear and looks like your typical
Californian yummy mummy.
Her V.O. continues while she puts on her running shoes. But
once she has got herself and CAROLA ready to go, hesitates at
the door. She manages to step one foot out the door, but soon
sees one of her neighbours. She waves hello, but instantly
steps back inside, frightened by how close she just was to
another person.
                   IRIS (V.O.)
              (Gently, as if we are hearing her
              internal voice)
         You can't trust anyone these days.
         It's not difficult to see how this
         virus went from being just an issue
         for China to being a global pandemic
         in the space of, what, two weeks?
         Anyhow, to answer your questions, I am


         doing really great, thanks. All is
         well. I'm not feeling at all bored or
         lonely, as you feared. Since Maria and
         I called things off, I've actually got
         quite used to being alone anyway. I
         quite like having my own space. No one
         else to worry about. And you know what
         it's like here. It's so beautiful. I
         feel so safe here, and at peace.
IRIS let's CAROLA out into the garden, but then rushes back
to the sink to wash her hands.
IRIS peaks through the curtains as neighbours stroll by. She
is terrified of them (because they could be carrying the
disease) and quietly draws the curtains closed, hoping they
won't notice her doing so.
                   IRIS (V.O.)
              (Gently, as if we are hearing her
              internal voice)
         And please don't worry about me
         slipping into old habits. I'm in a
         really good head space at the moment
         and have plenty to keep myself
         entertained and occupied.
         I'm sticking to my normal routine
         regardless - we both know how vital
         that is for me to maintain. I still
         wake up early, around 6am, even though
         I don't have to go to work. I shower
         and put on my face. Clean clothes
         every day. I write a to-do lists. I
         sip tea while watching Phil and Holly.
         Yesterday they had some chap on there
         doing a taste test of all the
         different Easter eggs you can buy from
         the various supermarkets. It's
         comforting to know that at least
         they're always there. Then I feed the
         bear and take her out for a walk on
         the beach. As you always like to say,
         it really is the simple things in


Washing vegetables and tins of food
                   IRIS (V.O.)
              (Gently, as if we are hearing her
              internal voice)
         I do my home workouts and am eating
         really healthy - mainly salads and
         vegetarian meals. The freezer broke
         again, so I can't keep meat or fish
         for long. I'm drinking lots of water,
         staying away from the wine. Oh, and
         your little food parcels (I didn't
         even see you dropping them off!) have
         been very welcome treats. Those
         beautiful pies are the best thing to
         come out of your retirement, and that
         curry was divine!
IRIS' phone rings but she panics and anxiously puts it in a
drawer and closes it so as not to have to answer it.
         I've also been using this downtime to
         invest in myself, in my personal
         development. I'm running, reading,
         learning French. There's just so much
         available online, and it's great that
         I can Facetime with friends and stay
         in touch with reality. It helps keep
         you sane, don't you think? And of
         course I make sure to get out once a
         day for a walk and some fresh air.
         It's always nice to see my neighbours
         out and about, too. This whole saga
         has definitely brought the best out in
         people. We really are all in this
         together, aren't we?
IRIS plates up a full delicious meal. But she can't stand the
sight of it and instantly scrapes the whole lot into a bin,
which she then throws outside, before washing her hands with
While washing the dishes, she eyes up one of her knives and
then stares out of the window towards her neighbours. It is
clear that she now sees them as the enemy.


                   IRIS (V.O.)
              (Gently, as if we are hearing her
              internal voice)
         So, yes, all is well. Please don't
         worry about me. I'm one of the lucky
         ones. I'm young and fit, so even if I
         was to catch it, I doubt it would
         really impact me. I hope you are
         feeling strong, too, and making the
         most of this unique period of time to
         indulge in your passions. I bet your
         garden looks incredible! At least this
         all happened at the onset of spring,
         and not midway through winter.
Sitting cross-legged in the dark on the floor, with candles
burning all around her, IRIS rocks back and forth while
clutching the knife and a bottle of bleach. Her laptop is sat
in front of her.
                   IRIS (V.O.)
              (Gently, as if we are hearing her
              internal voice)
         Apparently the curve is peaking right
         now, meaning it's the time when the
         highest number of people will be
         infected by the disease. Or something
         like that. Obviously it'll be a huge
         struggle for the NHS, but on the plus
         side I think things will gradually
         start getting back to normal.
         Let's keep in touch, Mum. I love you
         so much and really miss you.
         Your loving daughter,
As IRIS's letter and V.O. come to an end, she begins to
mutter to herself.


She is staring at her computer screen but don't know what at
until the camera swings around her shoulder. It is the email
to her mother. She hits send and closes the laptop.
              (chanting nervously, manically to
              herself - resumes rocking)
         I'm running, reading, learning French.
         We're all in this together.
         I'm running, reading, learning French.
         We're all in this together.
         I'm running, reading, learning French.
         We're all in this together.
A closing shot of IRIS' holiday home in the hushed park
emphasises her loneliness. Another shows the empty roads that
connect her to everybody and nobody all at once.



Please email me ( to discuss this screenplay.

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