JOANNA Hogg says she has never actually seen a ghost. “I haven’t,” the film director admits. “I’m almost disappointed that I haven’t. But I’ve felt things and heard things … I hesitate because sometimes your imagination creates something.”

Maybe the better question is, do you want to see a ghost, Joanna? “Uh, in the right circumstances … Preferably not on my own in an old house in the middle of the night.

“But with all fears there is a fascination that comes with it, of course.”

You can read what follows then as a ghost story of sorts. A haunting certainly. A story about place and time and memory and loss and grief.

In the end we all become ghosts, I suppose.

Hogg is anything but right now, however. She appears in a brightly lit room this November evening on the other end of a Zoom call to talk about her new film, The Eternal Daughter, which sees her team up with Tilda Swinton. The two have been friends since their school days back in the 1970s. The Eternal Daughter is a kind of postscript to Hogg’s award-winning films The Souvenir and The Souvenir: Part 2, which starred Swinton’s daughter Honor Swinton Byrne alongside her mother.

The Herald: Filmmaker Joanna Hogg Filmmaker Joanna Hogg (Image: unknown)

Hogg’s new movie seems to revisit Julie and Rosalind, the characters Swinton mere et fille played in those two films, but a few years down the line. And this time around, Swinton senior is playing both parts.

Set during a visit to a remote, sparsely-populated country hotel, it’s a film that begins in mist and darkness and is full of shadows and spooky noises off. As Hogg herself says, it’s not quite a ghost story but it plays with the tropes of the form.

“I was interested in heading towards … because I don’t think I arrive there … the genre and something gothic and creepy. It was really exciting to me because it was new. It was different from the other films and I quite like looking at another shape that already existed that I can then find my way into.”

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The result is a film that eschews jump-scares for atmosphere as it explores the complex relationship between mothers and daughters (both played immaculately by Swinton). But filming (and living) in the 18th-century Soughton Hall in Wales for the duration of the shoot had its moments when the atmosphere of the story seeped into the experience.

“Everyone’s imaginations were on fire,” she says of the shoot. “We all had different experiences of seeing things, hearing things. I thought I saw a shadow under the door where I was sleeping. I was living in the house where we were shooting. I dared myself to do it because I thought I’d get some ideas. But I didn’t sleep very well most of the time and I kept my light on.”

And the shadow? “As I was approaching down one of the dark corridors you see in the film towards my room there was a light on in the room and I’m sure I saw a shadow moving under the door. And I walked in and there was no-one there.

“The boom operator felt something touching him from behind the wallpaper in the bedroom that mother and daughter sleep in.”

Of course there is a deeper haunting at the heart of The Eternal Daughter. The ghost of family ties. Her late mother Sarah was the descendant of a prominent family and the relationship between Hogg and her mum is the motor that fuels the film. Originally – years ago – Hogg conceived the idea for a film about the relationship between a mother and a daughter without the ghostly trappings. But she couldn’t bring herself to make it at the time.

“I think it was just too raw. It was too close to my mother and myself in a way that felt uncomfortable,” Hogg suggests.

In a recent interview, I remind Hogg, Swinton said our mothers are often mysterious to us. Was her mother to her?

“She was maybe more defensive than mysterious. There were so many things that had obviously upset her in her past that she didn’t want to revisit and I suppose what that left was a mystery around her because she kept so much to herself.

“I tried to access her previous life before I was born as much as I could, but she was a very private woman so there was a point where I didn’t want to probe too much.

“My mother had a hatred of being in front of a camera. I was thinking today that if I had managed to encourage her to be in front of a film camera, or even in front of my iPhone, and done some filming of her, she might have got into it.

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“I think maybe I respected her privacy too much. Maybe if I had encouraged her it would have brought her some enjoyment …”

She smiles. “Another guilt to add to the list.”

Maybe we can turn the question around, I say to Hogg. Were you mysterious to your mother?

“I was. I think there was something about shame or not wanting to share my private life with her. You are absolutely right. I can’t speak because I was doing the same thing. And because my life went in a very different direction to the way her life had gone – I didn’t get married when I was young and I didn’t have children – I was very much a mystery to her. I could have been more open.”

Hogg, now 63, had an upper-middle class upbringing in Kent. She was privately educated at a boarding school attended by Diana Spencer. Hogg met Swinton on the first day there.

“She had already had at least a term at this school,” she says of Swinton, “and clearly wasn’t enjoying it. And at first sight I didn’t enjoy it. So we recognised in each other the challenge of being in this strange new place. That was the bonding. It was unspoken. We just looked at each other and there was a connection.”

Swinton even appeared in Hogg’s first short, Caprice (you can find it on YouTube). But while Swinton then forged a career in cinema, her friend moved into TV work, working on such series as London’s Burning and Casualty, before finally returning to filmmaking with Unrelated in 2007.

Hogg’s approach to film-making is idiosyncratic. She doesn’t write a script, but provides a broad outline for the actors to draw on instead. After Unrelated, her follow-ups, Archipelago and Exhibition, reminded us that even the well-heeled have Achilles heels. They caught the attention of Martin Scorsese, who has worked with her as executive producer on her subsequent films.

But it was the autobiographical movies The Souvenir and The Souvenir: Part 2, both of which drew on her own twentysomething experience of being in a relationship with an older man, that really established her name and fully mapped out her territory, this place we can call Hoggland.

Swinton, meanwhile, went from collaborating with Derek Jarman to becoming a central figure in 21st-century cinema, working with everyone from Wes Anderson to Pedro Almodovar and turning up in the Marvel universe (as the Ancient One in the Doctor Strange films).

Swinton is, quite frankly, something of a phenomenon. For Hogg, though, she still remains the girl she met at school.

The Herald: Tilda Swinton in The Eternal DaughterTilda Swinton in The Eternal Daughter (Image: A24)

“That’s the great thing about a close friendship. It doesn’t affect how I see her. She is incredible and has been in some brilliant films. But she’s my friend. Seeing my friend flourish in this way is wonderful and yet we can just muck in together. That’s her incredible ability actually; to tune into different frequencies and directors on very different projects and delve into those projects in a very profound way. She has got this ability. She very much engages in the moment.

“And that was really wonderful and surprising for me to discover when we did the Souvenirs because we hadn’t worked together for about 30 years. I’ve always been very against performance and acting. When I’m working with actors I’m always trying to peel away the performance. And Tilda was like working with a non-actor. And that’s the best compliment I could give her.

“By that I mean she was able to be in the moment. She didn’t need to prepare anything. She couldn’t anyway, because there were no lines to prepare. But she didn’t have any preconceptions. She was just able to be totally open and available and able to see what happens in the moment and not be fearful of that. I think some performers are.”

The Eternal Daughter offers a fresh map of Hoggland. Playing with genre tropes has been invigorating, Hogg says, and she’d like to do more of it.

“I’m reluctant to say more than that because I’m still figuring it out. I’m figuring out what this next thing is. But I think it will connect with a genre again because just at this moment I’m finding it inspiring to have an existing shape created by other people, other filmmakers, that I can then play with. I can create something of my own out of this existing shape.”

The Joanna Hogg sci-fi epic is coming soon then? “Who knows?”

That means there’s a ghost of a chance at least.

The Eternal Daughter is in selected cinemas now