The Norfolk market town of Swaffham has not hitherto been synonymous with the stars of the movie industry and neither has Aldershot, which is primarily recognised for its links to the British Army.
Swaffham’s only real claim to fame is being used as a location in the BBC’s wartime comedy ’Allo ’Allo, while Aldershot formed the backdrop for some scenes in Brad Pitt’s 2011 zombie horror film World War Z.
But these two provincial spots are set to benefit from a push by the film industry better to reflect life and culture outside the big cities. Indeed, Norfolk is to be the subject of an eponymous feature film, a tale of a disillusioned mercenary living on the marshy Broads.
The Goob, meanwhile, will be set in Swaffham and explore the local community’s special relationship with the motor car.
Along with Spaceship, a tale of teenage life in the Hampshire commuter town of Aldershot, these films have been chosen by Creative England for financial support and will all be shot in the summer. The three films are being funded by the iFeatures project, which is also supported by the British Film Institute (BFI) and BBC Films, meaning they will be shown on BBC television after their theatrical release.
The initiative forms part of a backlash against what some see as a London bias in British film making. “I’ve always felt that there isn’t enough telling of stories that represent the diversity of England,” said Chris Moll, head of talent development at Creative England, the national agency that funds creative ideas.
He said it was important that films truly reflected a local culture, rather than simply used a place as an interesting backdrop. “So often films that head out of London don’t really get under the skin of a place,” he said. “They are only interested in going to a nice location or because it is a bit cheaper to shoot outside of London.”
The Goob is centred on Swaffham Raceway, the isolated town’s stock car racing track. Guy Myhill, the film’s director, said: “In that part of the world there’s a dependency on cars and people grow up being able to fix and repair them – and that lends itself to stock car and banger racing. You also have the American airbases on the doorstep.
“East Anglia has a hell of a connection to the Americans, down to the love of painted vehicles. The race track has this dirty raw sound and you have these big old bruisers in boiler suits with lump hammers but the whole family, the wives and the daughters, all go. It’s a weird kind of culture.”
Mr Moll credited the BFI chairman Greg Dyke with encouraging the support of film-makers outside of London. Mr Dyke, who is also about to become chairman of the Football Association, told The Independent: “The clue’s in the name: we’re the British Film Institute and we take our UK-wide remit seriously. We want everyone across the UK to have the opportunity to be part of the film industry.”
The same philosophy will be reflected at the Cannes film festival next month, where The Selfish Giant, the second feature from director Clio Barnard (who made the acclaimed The Arbor, based on the life of the Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar) will have its world premiere. It is also filmed in Bradford and the Midlands.
And Paul Wright, a Scottish writer and director, will have his Highlands-based debut feature, For Those In Peril, shown as part of the festival’s International Critics’ Week. Around the country film crews are working on new projects away from the familiar backdrops of London or Edinburgh.
The director Duane Hopkins (who made the haunting 2008 Cotswolds feature Better Things) is filming Bypass in Gateshead, Durham and the colliery village of Shiremoor.
Yann Demange (who directed the Channel 4 London gang drama Top Boy) is working in the South Yorkshire steel town of Stocksbridge, outside Sheffield, on a film called ’71.
The town’s military barracks were used to film a Brad Pitt movie in 2011. But the film hardly reflected local culture; World War Z was an apocalyptic horror film about a zombie takeover. The barracks were also used for scenes in 2011 film Captain America, and 1960 Peter Sellers comedy Two Way Stretch.
Nearby Castle Acre Priory was a location for 1964 horror flick The Tomb of Ligeia. The Norman priory was also a setting in children’s programme Knightmare. Local lad Stephen Fry starred in ITV drama Kingdom, filmed in the village; and Swaffham also featured in BBC wartime comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo.