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Film to lift lid on beliefs of Lowestoft-raised and Holt-educated composer Benjamin Britten

PUBLISHED: 06:30 15 June 2012 | UPDATED: 08:54 15 June 2012

Benjamin Britten; Dated: December 11th, 1987

Benjamin Britten; Dated: December 11th, 1987

Archant

He is a leading light in the modern classical music world. But a new movie about Benjamin Britten is set to explore a lesser-known theme running through his life - as a war-hating pacifist.

Familiar fields events

Celebrations of Benjamin Britten’s centenary will be happening all over the world - but the events across Norfolk and Suffolk are being co-ordinated and promoted by a group and website called Familiar Fields.

Administrator Michael Nutt said more than 80 organisations were involved in the scheme, which aimed to “put Britten on the map as a composer and cultural icon, and promote the local landscapes and seascapes that inspired him”.

Events range from small chamber music recitals to major operas, such as Noye’s Fludde, in venues as diverse as churches and concert halls.

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

Mr Nutt said there were four main centres - Aldeburgh, Lowestoft, Norwich and Holt - due to their Britten connections. A list of events is due to be released in early July. Familiar Fields is supported by Adnams brewery and has Archant Anglia as its media partner.

● To subscribe for more information visit www.familiarfields.org

The drama-documentary will be shot at his old school, Gresham’s in Holt, where the Lowestoft-born lad’s beliefs were burnished.

The film maker is namesake Tony Britten, a life-long fan of the composer who lives in the town but said he was not a relation “as far I know”.

And the funding for the movie, which is targeted at film club and festival audiences, includes a chance for the public to buy into the project through “crowd funding” in the shape of a £50,000 appeal.

Teenage Britten was at Gresham’s School between 1928 and 1930, but Tony said the fuse for his pacifism had already ignited.

“At prep school, aged 11 or 12, he wrote an essay which was against hunting in all its manifestations including war.

“When he got to Gresham’s, it encouraged free thinking and he was among contemporaries who were very left leaning.”

They included Donald McLean, who infamously later went on to be a communist spy.

When the second world war broke out Britten, already a prolific composer, was a conscientious objector. His conviction that wartime slaughter should never happen again was reinforced when he was piano accompanist to violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin playing to inmates of the liberated Belsen concentration camp at the end of the war in 1945.

It underpinned the tone of his work including the anti-war War Requiem - written in the 1960s and set to Wilfred Owen’s first world war poetry - for the re-consecration of bombed Coventry cathedral.

Tony spent a year researching the film, mainly at the Britten-Pears Library, in the Aldeburgh house Benjamin shared with partner and singer Peter Pears. It involved hours of trawling through Benjamin’s diaries and letters which revealed the depth of his interest in Marxism in early adulthood.

“People have done documentaries about Benjamin Britten in the past - often about his relationship with Peter - but I wanted to do a film that looked at a gap in his story, his pacifist beliefs.

“I am not sure where they started but they fermented at Gresham’s. Having moved to Holt in 2000 it was on my doorstep - and the school is playing a very active part in the film, providing boys as actors.

“We are using parts of the school that have not changed since his time, or which can be taken back,” he explained.

The script is written. Casting is happening now, with a nationwide trawl for the eight principal parts. Filming is due to start in August and should be finished as the school returns from the summer holidays.

As well as shooting action in his old corridors and classrooms, the movie will include footage of live performances, interspersed with archive footage - and narration by north Norfolk-based acting legend John Hurt.

Funding is a combination of commercial investment, pre-sales across the world, and government tax credit aiding British films.

But the £50,000 shortfall sees the relatively new “crowd funding” appeal, offering people interested in the project a chance to buy in - for as little as £5 or as much as £500.

Low end donations get people onto email lists, high end ones provide tickets for meet-the-stars champagne VIP screenings.

The appeal is running until mid July but Tony is keen to hear from potential backers as soon as possible.

Tony, who runs Capriol Films, has been in the music and film industry for 30 years. His compositions include the Champions League football theme tune and his films range from high opera to a drama about an Alma Cogan tribute act set on Cromer Pier.

He was excited about the film focusing on his musical hero which was a “very personal piece” and timed to coincide with the centenary of Britten’s birth next year.

● To find out and more and support the film visit www.benjaminbrittenfilm.co.uk

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