Screen legend shines in Norfolk

Richard ParrScreen legend Jean Simmons found that shooting a movie in North Norfolk breathed new life into her career. And this Thursday the film Shadows in the Sun is being screened in Norfolk.Richard Parr

An award-winning film directed and co-written by a Norfolk aristocrat and shot on location on the North Norfolk coast is being screened in the county this week.

One of the film's big name stars - 80-year-old legendary British actress and Hollywood star Jean Simmons - emerged from semi-retirement in California to appear in the low-budget movie and she is reported as saying that making the film in Norfolk put a joy back into her life that she believed had been lost.

Miss Simmons, who for many screen buffs will forever be Estella in Great Expectations or Varinia the slave girl to Kirk Douglas's Spartacus, agreed to play the role after reading the script by director David Rocksavage - the Marquess of Cholmondeley and owner of Houghton Hall, near Fakenham - and Margaret Glover.

The film, Shadows in the Sun, being shown at the Sheringham Little Theatre on Thursday afternoon and evening, is based on a story written by David Rocksavage, from a story he was told by his mother.

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Many people in Norfolk will be familiar with some of the locations used in the film which include Walsingham, Holkham and Brancaster.

Playing opposite Miss Simmons is James Wilby, a familiar face from the Oscar-winning film Gosford Park and Merchant Ivory films, including Howards End.

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Set in the late 1960s, Shadows in the Sun is the poignant story of how a mysterious young loner changes the lives of one family and helps them rediscover their roots and deep affection for each other.

Miss Simmons plays Hannah, who lives alone in a large remote house on the north Norfolk coast where little has changed for half-a-century… the marshes, the sand dunes, the pine forests, the wide empty beaches and solitary houses under wide open skies.

Hannah and her late husband bought the house after a life filled with theatre, books and travel. She seems perfectly happy and at ease with her poetry, her garden and her much younger friend Joe (played by top Calvin Klein model Jamie Dornan), who delivers her drugs to ease the pain of a long illness.

When Hannah's son Robert (played by Wilby) arrives with Kate (Ophelia Lovibond) and Sam (Toby Marlowe), his teenage daughter and 10-year-old son, tensions quickly surface.

Robert is shocked by Hannah's intimacy with Joe and is deeply suspicious of his motives, while Kate finds the handsome man extremely attractive.

Sam, in between exploring the nearby shipwreck and roaming the countryside, learns lessons about jealousy and loss.

A series of dramatic incidents culminate in Sam almost drowning, which brings the family together and helps them learn to understand one another.

For Miss Simmons, Shadows in the Sun is far removed from the pomp and splendour of her lavish Hollywood movies such as The Robe, The Big Country or Guys and Dolls. Her screen portrayals have ranged from Shakespeare's Ophelia to Damon Runyon's singing Salvation Army officer. She has completed 16 British films, notably David Lean's Great Expectations in the role of Estella and Ophelia opposite Laurence Oliver's Hamlet, for which she received her first Oscar nomination.

In a newspaper interview she was reported as saying of the film: 'We had to shoot it very, very quickly. There was no time for retakes or anything like that.'

And it was clear that she fell in love with the Norfolk countryside. 'Oh, it's the most beautiful place ands so healthy, with the country air and the sea air. We were all health nuts, drinking green tea all the time. I hadn't worked for such a long time. It brought a joy back to my life that I thought I had lost. It did me personally the world of good.'

The film has been on general release since earlier this summer and has already been shown in cinemas in Norwich and Cromer.

The filming was shot over about five weeks of the summer of 2007.

Producer James Youngs said: 'We are fortunate in having David Rocksavage as the director for his second film. Living in Norfolk at Houghton Hall, he had a good working knowledge of the locations on the North Norfolk coast and he was good to work with, a very nice guy.

'We thoroughly enjoyed the experience of making the film and we found we had really good support from the local community. We had about 10 professional actors and the rest of the cast were extras.

'The Norfolk skies are incredible and places like Brancaster and Holkham are excellent to shoot scenes for a film set in the 1960s because they have a sense of not being touched by time and are still largely undeveloped.'

He explained that the cast and crew stayed at various places in the area including Briarfields, Titchwell Manor and at the accommodation at the Construction College at Great Bircham.

Shadows in the Sun will be shown at the Sheringham Little Theatre on Thursday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets cost �5.

For more information contact the box office on 01263 822347.

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