Could the next Bridgerton-style hit be filmed in Norfolk?
- Credit: Danielle Booden
From Gorleston beach in Danny Boyle’s Yesterday to Norwich’s Elm Hill in the Netflix Christmas musical Jingle Jangle, Norfolk has played a starring role in a host of big and small screen productions in recent years.
The thrilling train sequence at the beginning of Jed Mercurio’s hit Bodyguard was filmed on the Mid Norfolk Railway.
Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield used locations across the region, including King’s Lynn.
The county’s most famous fictional son’s first big screen outing Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa was filmed in Norwich, Cromer and Sheringham.
And in the last few months, Sir Kenneth Branagh has been spotted at Aylsham filming scenes for Sky Atlantic’s The Sceptred Isle in which he plays Boris Johnson, Emma Thompson and Peaky Blinders star Daryl McCormack filmed the comedy drama Good Luck to You, Leo Grande in Norwich, and Kristen Stewart and Sally Hawkins shot scenes from the forthcoming Princess Diana biopic Spencer at Hunstanton.
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When film crews roll up in the county it creates a buzz – and with productions using hospitality businesses and hiring local people as extras it gives the local economy a boost too.
And that’s why Norfolk Screen has been set up – to spread the word in the film industry about its wealth of locations and talent.
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It was founded last November by managing director Claire Chapman and development director Craig Higgins.
Claire formerly headed up the US office of the UK Film Council in LA and from 2016 to early 2020, Craig helped oversee the development and growth of Norwich Film Festival, including helping the festival gain charitable status.
Says Craig: “Norfolk has a long history of film production, dating back from Dad’s Army and the Anglia TV days, and over the years we’ve had massive blockbusters shot in the region such as Shakespeare in Love, Jack the Giant Slayer and we’ve recently just had Spencer, with Kristen Stewart.
“I decided to step down from the Norwich Film Festival last year, which was really sad because I loved doing the festival, but I really wanted to try and help put something together that might encourage more productions to Norfolk to film.
“We’ve had some great productions come this way recently, but I think we should be shouting about it more as a county.”
And, as Craig points out, there are lots of things to shout about – not least about how much the camera loves Norfolk.
“We’ve got these big, beautiful open skies, which I think look phenomenal on screen. We've got Norwich, an amazing historical city, we’ve got cathedrals, we’ve got places that can double for other areas in the region.”
Plus, there’s the wealth of talent and facilities too.
“It really is a hidden gem. We’ve got some award-winning cast and crew that live in Norfolk. And we’ve got award-winning facilities, production houses and we’ve got places such as the hangars at the former RAF Raynham, which is acting as a studio space where they recently shot The Sceptred Isle with Kenneth Branagh and The Souvenir. And we’ve got Epic Studios in Norwich where they filmed Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, so there are some excellent facilities that can really service productions,” says Craig.
“And it has that knock on effect. If you get more production here then you’ve got more crew getting work, you’ve got more businesses and services getting work, you’ve got more people moving into Norfolk if there is more work this way.”
The Norfolk Screen website is designed as a one-stop-stop shop for film productions who might be looking for crew or filming locations in the county.
“We’ve got nearly 200 cast and crew listed currently and just over 100 services and facilities listed, but we’re keen to keep on encouraging people to sign up,” says Craig.
“It’s free to sign up to our facilities and cast and crew directory and our locations directory is free to sign up to if you are a public location, so if you are owned by a council, or the National Trust or if it’s community run.”
Norfolk Screen has already helped a couple of productions.
“Spencer shot here and my colleague Claire knew the producer, so we were able to have a chat with them. They were looking for a Norfolk location manager so we were able to hook them up with somebody locally.
“And it was the same for Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, with Emma Thompson. I know the producer fairly well and we were able to say, use our website, see if there’s any local talent that you can use and they did – there were people locally who they could get jobs for, which is wonderful,” says Craig.
Film tourism – people visiting the locations where their favourite movies and TV series are made – is a booming industry.
For example, Game of Thrones, which filmed in Northern Ireland, has drawn many people to places such as Cushendun Caves, Murlough Bay and Ballintoy Harbour, while Bath is currently enjoying a boost in tourism due to the Bridgerton effect after Netflix's Regency romp filmed in the city.
And it’s one of Craig and Norfolk Screen’s aspirations to encourage a continuing series to base themselves in the county.
“One of the good things about having filming in the region is that it generates money for the region, because people are using hotels, they’re using caterers and it does create a buzz,” says Craig.
“And adding to that is the film tourism aspect. If people are thinking ‘I’d like to go down Elm Hill because they shot Jingle Jangle there’, these productions have got an audience, and they see how beautiful a location is, you’ve got a real opportunity to get more people to visit Norfolk.
“I would love to see a series being made in Norfolk - for Netflix, Amazon, or the BBC or ITV to do a six-part series in Norfolk – and then hopefully it becomes a continuing series.
“You think of something like Bridgerton, for example, which has used places in Bath, which has had a huge impact on tourism.
“Our aspirations are big. We’re going to be encouraging that for sure.”
To find out more visit Norfolk Screen at norfolkscreen.co.uk