Budding stars' Atonement role

By NICKI WALKERIt is the dream of any aspiring actress, to star alongside one of Hollywood's hottest stars in a movie tipped for Oscar glory.But there's a catch.


It is the dream of any aspiring actress, to star alongside one of Hollywood's hottest stars in a movie tipped for Oscar glory.

But there's a catch.

The role is to lie still in a Norfolk orchard and play dead.

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That is exactly what a group of budding young Norfolk actresses did when they won roles in Atonement, starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Vanessa Redgrave and which opens on Friday.

And the harrowing scenes filmed at an orchard at Walpole St Andrew now serve as part of the trailer for the movie.

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Ironically, many of the girls - from the Sandra Reynolds commercial model and casting agency and the Norwich-based DramActive academy - may not get the chance to watch themselves on the big screen.

While most of the girls are aged between 11 and 13, the film has been given a 15 certificate.

Atonement is based on a novel by Ian McEwan and is about a 13-year-old girl and her Cambridge graduate older sister Cecilia Tallis, played by Knightley.

The film is set around the second world war and takes viewers on an emotional journey from the joie de vivre of a 1930s gathering at an English country house to the horrors of Dunkirk.

The story hinges on the lives of two lonely young people whose lives are shattered by the lies, deliberate or innocent, spawned by a child's over-active imagination.

The girls who took part were filmed last year, at Walpole St Andrew, which was picked as an ideal location for the moving scene with Mr McAvoy.

They were chosen to be extras after the agency was asked to provide “French-type schoolgirls” with an innocent look. The scene was shot in one day and the girls were bussed from Norwich to the location. They then spent a number of hours in make-up for the transformation into harrowing child corpses.

Emma Sannerude, head booker at Sandra Reynolds, said: “There was a lot of work involved beforehand and the girls had to be cast for the scene and then there was one day shoot at Walpole St Andrew.

“It was a significant scene in the film, when the soldiers are marching across some fields when they find these school children massacred.

“It was a really good set and the girls loved being part of it.”

Among the youngsters who took part was Madi Brown, 13, from Surlingham, who attends Norwich High School For Girls.

She said: “It was very exciting and the make-up was so realistic. It was quite a difficult scene to shoot as we could not breathe as we were playing dead.

“It is an important scene and it makes you feel really special that you were chosen to appear in it.”

Miss Knightley was not on set for the scene, and although the girls were not able to talk to Mr McAvoy, they are able to tell their school friends that they have starred in a scene with one of Britain's hottest new movie stars.

Jane Ashdown, principal of DramActive, said: “Some of the girls had to have bullet holes and they were all really excited to be taking part in the scene, and it was a great experience for them.

“Some of the girls may not even be able to see the film though as it is a 15, and some of them are not that old!”

She added: “You never know there might have been the next Keira Knightley amongst them.”

At the time, the film producer said they had chosen the Norfolk and Lincolnshire landscapes because they were similar to that of Dunkirk and northern France.

The producers looked at more than 20 locations before deciding on filming at Walpole St Andrew.

Twelve-year-old India Harl, from Norwich, who was one of the youngsters who took part in the filming, said: “It was really enjoyable, the make-up was so realistic and they put grease in our hair. Being on set was really fun.”

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