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Essex on the big screen

PUBLISHED: 11:39 20 February 2017 | UPDATED: 11:39 20 February 2017

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EXG MAR 17 FILM PROD

Archant

From James Bond to Batman, Essex has been known to bask in a little Hollywood glitz. Sybilla Hart explores what it is that gives the county a creative edge that movie-goers love

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It’s that time of year when it can feel like the only thing to do is draw the curtains, put the log burner on and turn on the box in a concentrated effort to banish the cold and winter blues.

Of course, while the Narnia effect will soon be reversed and it won’t be long until the buds have pushed through the thawed ground of our frostbitten corner of England. But in the meantime, in the land of popcorn and movie channels, the county of Essex has more to boast of than you might have thought.

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Back in the Swinging Sixties, the original terminal building at Southend Airport featured in the classic James Bond film Goldfinger. In a famous scene, Goldfinger’s Rolls Royce is loaded onto a British United Air Ferries Carvair prior to the master villain’s flight to Geneva.

Having tracked his quarry, Bond drives his iconic Aston Martin DB5 onto the airport’s apron before loading it into the huge plane’s belly and pursuing Goldfinger in Switzerland.

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In keeping with the airline theme, Stansted Airport’s exterior has doubled up as New York’s JFK in Bridget Jones’ Diary and the fictitious Gotham airport in The Dark Knight Rises. Seven years before the Dark Knight scene was filmed, Coalhouse Fort in East Tilbury provided the setting for a Bhutanese prison, in which Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) finds himself, while Tilbury’s docks also became Gotham City’s in Batman Begins.

In fact, Tilbury’s waterfront has also been transformed into Venice in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as the world’s favourite archaeologist is hunting for the Holy Grail.

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But our county’s aesthetic contribution to the film industry is not just about functionality. St Clements Church at West Thurrock was the chosen spot for the funeral in the blockbuster Four Weddings and a Funeral. The director, Mike Newell, said he, ‘wanted the sense of a fine church lost forlornly in an industrial landscape’ which the location scouts duly delivered given that St Clements is dwarfed by the looming Proctor and Gamble building behind it.

Stepping into the South Essex film scene is Terry Bird, the Ilford-born actor and producer of This is Essex, which is filmed in South Essex. Bird’s film company, New Town, received praise for their film which was lauded as an honest portrayal of Essex and about as far removed from the clichés of TOWIE as possible.

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This low budget film looks at the relationship between a group of locals who manage to get themselves involved with the wrong sorts of characters. How they extricate themselves from this mess might be a matter of life and death.

Our county’s representation in the film industry is not just an urban, streetwise genre. Daniel Radcliffe, having called time on his Harry Potter days, can these days be seen filming quirky horror films such as The Woman in Black, which was filmed on Osea Island, located on the Blackwater estuary close to Maldon. The beachside cottages and Edwardian manor house on Osea Island can be rented privately to normal folk and film companies alike.

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Caroline Bartleet was only 28 when she wrote and directed the short film Operator, which won a BAFTA for the Best British short film last year. Operator features two household names, Vicky McClure and Katie Dickie, and looks at the relationship between an emergency operator and a lady whose three-year-old son is trapped inside a burning house. It is an intense five minutes and had many reviewers in tears at the dramatic ending.

Caroline is currently working on her next short film as writer and director and is hoping to shoot it this summer. Set on a farm, her latest film is being funded by a scheme set up by the National Film and Television School with BBC Films.

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‘My three siblings and I grew up on a farm near Great Tey,’ explains Caroline. ‘We were incredibly lucky because we had all this space just outside the house. Space is an amazing thing whoever you are, but I think it is especially so for children. And because there aren’t kids next door you rely more on your siblings. Of course, you make believe, you invent places that don’t exist, you play games, you tell stories and all of those things are really the beginnings of making a film. I feel sure that growing up in that environment has had a profound effect on what I do now.’

Steven Harris runs JackFrancis Media, a video production and digital content agency within an office on the grounds of a 17th century farmhouse in Bulphan, South Essex. He can see Canary Wharf and the Shard from the top of the Langdon Hills Nature Reserve when he is out walking his dog. ‘It provides a great location to get some perspective and clarity,’ explains Steven, whose perception on Essex from a work point of view is fascinating.

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‘It is really interesting when our clients come to the office and visit Essex for the first time. They are always surprised at how pretty the train journey becomes, but most of all they are shocked at the proximity to Central London. Originally I was concerned many clients wouldn’t want to travel to visit us, but now I think they choose to visit us!’

A few years ago, Steven worked on a project with Invest Essex, forming part of the business support team of Essex County Council. ‘One thing that stood out for me was how entrepreneurial the people of Essex are. It’s a very exciting place to run a business. I love it when speaking to clients or high profile figures about Essex – everyone knows it and it always provides a conversation starter. Of course, there are the misconceptions or stereotypes, but its always good hearted and those that are not from here but have visited, always comment on its beauty.’

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Steven’s parting remark says it all: ‘I am very proud to be part of Essex.’

It seems that this summary can be applied to the creative industry of film-making as much as anything else.

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Find out more

Anyone interested in investing in New Town Films should contact Terry Bird at films@newtownfilms.co.uk

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