A Norfolk school was transported back to the era between the wars at the weekend as cameras rolled to make a film about one of its favourite sons.

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Neat side partings were to the fore in the corridors of Gresham’s School at Holt, which formed the backdrop for the movie about the composer Benjamin Britten’s time there between 1928-1930.

Life and art merged into one, as many of the young actors who played characters from the 1920s are students at Gresham’s School today, having made it through end-of-term auditions in July.

And there was particular joy for 18-year-old Chris Theobald, from Wells, who defied his lack of acting experience to secure a part that was expected to go to a professional - that of the infamous spy for the Soviet Union, one of the Cambridge Five, Donald Maclean.

Chris, who left Gresham’s in July for a gap year working at St Paul’s Cathedral School in London, said: “There was a poster up, saying there were going to be auditions, so I went along and was fortunate enough to get a call back, where I was asked to read Maclean’s part.”

The excitement happened while Chris was taking his A-levels.

He said he “did not initially know much” about Maclean, who was one of Britten’s contemporaries at Gresham’s, and who producer Anwen Rees-Myers said was “something of an intellectual bully”, who picked on Britten and others.

Chris said: “I can’t express how much of an honour it is to play this part.”

He added: “Britten’s music is one of my passions, because I love English choral music. To be in a film about him is amazing.”

The Capriol Films drama-documentary - called Peace and Conflict - is written and directed by Britten’s namesake Tony Britten, a lifelong fan of the composer who lives at Holt.

It focuses on Britten’s budding pacifism, which took shape during his time at Gresham’s, having been ignited when he was at prep school and wrote an essay against hunting in all its manifestations, including war.

Ms Rees-Myers, whose husband John Hurt is narrating the film and playing a small part in it, said filming was due to be completed by the end of Wednesday, having started last Tuesday.

She said today there would be a trip to Weybourne station, for a scene where Britten waved goodbye to a close school friend who was leaving for university.

Tuesday would see the focus switching to music recording, with celebrated tenor James Gilchrist joined on set by counter-tenor Jake Arditti and pianist Iain Burnside.

Mr Rees-Myers paid tribute to the local youngsters who were taking part in the film, saying: “They have been wonderful. Along with the actors, we are using the prep school choir, the senior school choir and the brass group.”

She added that the school had been “wonderful”. She said: “It’s a fantastic place. The production value is good because we are not having to recreate somewhere.

“And the staff have been so helpful. They have gone so much further than we expected in allowing us to do this.”

The film is expected to be released in January, which is the beginning of a year of celebrations of the centenary of Britten’s birth.

The celebrations, which are supported by the EDP, are being co-ordinated by a group and website called Familiar Fields.

More than 80 organisations are involved, with events ranging from small chamber music recitals to major operas, such as Noye’s Flood, in venues as diverse as churches and concert halls.

There will be a trio of performances of his seminal War Requiem, involving 200 people, at Norwich’s St Andrew’s Hall, Gresham’s and Bury St Edmunds Cathedral.

● See www.benjaminbrittenfilm.co.uk and www.familiarfields.org

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