Have you seen these two classic movies made in East Anglia that we should also remember?
PUBLISHED: 20:59 23 February 2020 | UPDATED: 21:00 23 February 2020
Paul Barnes says there are a couple of other great movies that were filmed in East Anglia that didn’t feature in a recent EDP article
Recent issues of Saturday's Heaven magazine have included brief directories of films made in the region with mini-profiles of some of the people involved in their production, both on-screen and behind the camera. Shortly after they appeared an old friend, Mollie Ayer, dropped me a few lines in her neat hand on pale blue Basildon Bond writing paper; she's never embraced the internet.
Mollie is a veteran cineaste. When younger she seldom saw daylight; for her, real life was rolled out on the silver screen. Besides me she's the only other person I know who owns the complete editions of Penguin Film Review. She was a wee bit puzzled by what she saw as significant absentees from the Heaven survey: The Go-Between and Akenfield.
The Go-Between, based on LP Hartley's novel, is set in the blazing summer of 1900. It's the story of a boy on the edge of adolescence duped into carrying messages between the beautiful daughter of an upper-class family and her lover, an unsuitable Norfolk farmer; the girl was Julie Christie, and Alan Bates was the farmer. Joe Losey directed it from a screenplay by Harold Pinter.
The girl's stately home was Melton Constable Hall; the village church was at Heydon; sedate bathing was in Hickling Broad; Norwich featured too with busy scenes shot on Tombland and at Thorpe Station. Somebody slipped up with the editing of this sequence; there in big bold letters are the words British Rail.
A thrilling village cricket match was shot at Thornage, with ripe Norfolk accents from the local spectators, including 20-year-old Jim Broadbent, unknown, un-credited.
I saw the film not long after its release in 1971. The cinema was in Hatfield, Herts. It was a bitter winter night, the night the heating system broke down. The entire audience was muffled up in coats, scarves and gloves, our breath turning to steam as we watched Norfolk wilting in the relentless sunshine of Queen Victoria's final summer.
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One name that did make it onto the credits was Peter Handford. He was the sound-recordist and effectively a local lad, living at Wickham Skeith near Eye. His name was on the credits of Akenfield as well, Peter Hall's film derived from Ronald Blythe's classic account of the changing pattern of life in rural Suffolk, from 19th century memories of childhood, through later generations, and on to the concerns of country people in the early 1970s.
Thanks to the book and the film Akenfield became one of the best-known villages in England. But the place never existed. The stories are true but Akenfield is a fiction, a name coined by Ronald
Blythe to represent the real villages he wrote about, Debach and Charsfield. Living locally he knew nearly everybody: farmworkers, schoolteachers, vet and blacksmith, rural dean and gravedigger. All of them told him of village life past and present. They all called him Ronnie. People still do.
When he read the book Peter Hall heard the music of Suffolk voices. "I seemed to hear my grandfather talking," he wrote, a Suffolk man himself, born at Bury St Edmunds. He and Ronnie met to talk about possibly making a film of Akenfield. Ronnie had his doubts. Nevertheless he produced a brief outline based on Old Tom, a farmworker whose life is recalled in a series of flashbacks.
There were to be no actors, only Suffolk people who would have the briefest hints as to what any scene was about and then play it in their own words. An advertisement brought in several aspiring players. Garrow Shand, a young agricultural contractor, was cast as the young Tom and his grandfather as a young man; Lyn Brooks was a driving instructor. Cast as Charlotte, she was courted and married by Old Tom. The woman picked to play Young Tom's mother lived almost on Ronnie's doorstep. "A very attractive woman, kind of rosy-faced," says Ronnie. She was Peggy Cole, the classic Suffolk mawther.
With an amateur cast filming was done mostly at weekends and took nearly a year to complete. There were problems with the unions, both the actors' and the technicians'; they were eventually persuaded. "We all did it for love," said Peter Hall.
The love shows. One critic wrote that it was "one of the best films - and certainly the most unusual - made in and about England".
Norfolk was no mere background for The Go-Between; as much as any of the cast it played its part. And Suffolk was no mere background for Akenfield; the story and the people who told it sprang from the county's very earth.
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