Porthmadog has a first knight to remember

Sean Connery was hardly missed at a film premiere that starred a Welsh coastal town, reports Michael Prestage

Michael Prestage
Monday 03 July 1995 23:02

A touch of Hollywood glamour came to Porthmadog, a seaside town in north Wales, last night when the Coliseum cinema there staged the European premiere of First Knight, an Arthurian legend starring Richard Gere and Sean Connery.

So what if the US critics have panned it? Or that, of the major stars, only Julia Ormond was there, after Connery pulled out at the 11th hour?

Porthmadog gets few moments of glory, and locals were queuing behind the barriers an hour and half before the start. There was a red carpet, of course. And, after a scramble by organisers, a limousine was found for Ms Ormond, who was bombarded by questions in Welsh as local TV stations made the most of the occasion. The police had their hands full keeping back the media scrum, while even the local Rotarians had been drafted in as cinema bouncers.

That the school and DIY centre opposite the cinema are not typical backdrops for such an occasion did not matter. After all, neither London nor Los Angeles can boast the beauty of Snowdonia.

"There was a packed house and everybody enjoyed themselves," said the master of ceremonies, Hugh Edwin Jones. "What do the critics know anyway? This has been a massive boost to the town."

Out of evening wear, Mr Jones is media development officer for Gwynedd county council and was instrumental in persuading Columbia TriStar films to spend three weeks shooting in the county. More than 700 locals starred as extras and about pounds 10m was generated for the local economy.

He was disappointed, of course, that Connery could not be there, but that had not ruined the party, particularly as the venue itself only survived closure in the mid-1980s thanks to a campaign by local people.

The 500-seat cinema was saved by a consortium of 1,000 residents who raised pounds 50,000 to buy shares and own it. Eryl Morris, a committee member and shareholder, said: "Keeping the cinema going has taken a lot of hard work and this occasion shows how worthwhile it has been."

Angharad ap Iorwerth, aged 20, a farmer's daughter, was one of the lucky ones taken on as an extra. She was there last night to see the result.

She said: "It was great to be involved in film-making and to meet the stars. The town has been buzzing for weeks since this night was announced."

Dyfan Davies, 21, a student in nearby Bangor, worked in the costume department for the three weeks. He said: "This is a big party night for the town. Whether in the VIP suite or the local pub, the drinks will be flowing until late."

If Mr Jones has his way, the region's flirtation with Hollywood will continue. Columbia TriStar executives were taken after the film to a reception in the nearby town of Portmeirion. The location was intentional, for Mr Jones hopes that a cinema remake of the classic 1960s TV series The Prisoner will, like the original, be filmed there.

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