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Behind the scenes as new Hollywood movie is filmed near Bridgnorth

Filming has just wrapped on a new Hollywood movie shot in Shropshire. Mark Andrews takes a look behind the scenes.

Director Simon Hunter (arms folded) on set at Upton Cressett
Director Simon Hunter (arms folded) on set at Upton Cressett

As the skies open up, Downton Abbey star Matt Barber gets a last-minute briefing. There is a brief delay while the parcel van makes its way down the lane.

"This is a 360, can everybody hide!" shouts the man in charge. The crew scatters, and a cloud of smoke erupts.

As the field becomes a First World War battleground, and Barber a war hero, dozens of people in sturdy winter clothing run for the muddy embankments to shelter from the drizzle behind the nearest hedge. This seems a long way from Will Smith's contretemps at the Oscars.

We're at Upton Cressett, just outside Bridgnorth, on the last day of filming of a new Hollywood movie in Shropshire.

Film director Simon Hunter at Upton Cressett Hall

Can You Hear Me?, written by and starring actress Charlotte Radford, also features veteran actor Sir John Standing, American movie star Peter Facinelli, and James Cosmo, who has appeared in Game of Thrones.

In the mystery-romance, Facinelli plays Samuel, an American officer passing through on the way to the front line, who falls in love with a beautiful local girl, Annabel, played by Charlotte Radford. Later when he returns from the front, all is not what it seems.

Radford got the idea for the film while staying as a guest at one of the holiday lets at Upton Cressett a couple of years ago. It is understood the estate will play a prominent role when the film is released later in the year.

Director Simon Hunter examines a scene during filming at Upton Cressett

As well as Upton Cressett, filming has also taken place in Much Wenlock and at the Long Mynd, the Severn Valley Railway and Pitchford Hall. This is home turf for director Simon Hunter, who was educated at Packwood-Haugh School, near Ellesmere.

"My mum lives in Much Wenlock, I think she was pretty proud seeing her son filming here," he says.

"I was at school with Rowena Colthurst, who now owns Pitchford Hall.

Director Simon Hunter chats to leading actress Charlotte Radford ahead of a scene at Upton Cressett Hall

"Pitchford Hall is such an amazing location, it is a beautiful hall, and it was great being able to do some filming there."

Hunter, whose previous director credits include the 2016 award-winning film Edie, starring Sheila Hancock in the title role, says Shropshire has great potential as a movie set, having most of the locations that a director would look for.

"It's an amazing county, stunningly beautiful," he says.

Film crews bring lots of equipment with them

"You have got everything; you have got the rugged countryside of the Long Mynd, the picturesque towns like Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth, there is the steam railway, the industrial heritage and you've got the smaller villages."

Hunter, who made his first movie at the age of seven, says the industry is rarely as glamorous as people think. Long, hard days filming on cold, wet nights are par for the course, and crucial to create the level of detail that makes a film credible.

"We have been creating First World War battlefields in the field here, with soldiers in the trenches recreating the atmosphere of the Somme," he says.

A new period film Can You Hear Me? has just been filmed at Upton Cressett Hall, near Bridgnorth

"That meant three days of shooting at night in the cold and rain. It can be quite hard on the cast and the crew, it can mean starting at 5.30am, and not finishing until 10.30 at night. That's a full-time job for the crew, particularly, because everything's got to be where it should be."

He says the weather has actually been quite kind to the crew during filming. A few days' rain on arrival was followed by three weeks of spring-like conditions, with winter making a belated return on the last day.

"There is always an energy on the last day," says Hunter. "You have got so much to go through, and everybody wants to get everything done. There's a great sense of satisfaction when it's all done."

A great deal of logistical support takes place behind the scenes

He adds that attention to detail is the watchword with every scene, and great efforts are made to ensure everything is authentic.

"Our artistic department has been amazing at this, they make sure everything is correct in every scene. If you have got somebody sat round a dining table, they will ensure the mugs are right for the period, the cutlery, the place settings."

William Cash, owner of the Upton Cressett estate, hopes that the film will raise the profile of Shropshire as a visitor attraction and boost the tourism economy in the area.

William Cash outside historic Upton Cressett Hall

"Shropshire has a history in the film industry, being used for films including Atonement and Howard's End," he says.

"Hopefully it will bring people to Shropshire, and make people realise what a great and glorious part of England it is so that they want to visit."

The county provided the backdrop for the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol, starring George C Scott, which was filmed entirely in Shrewsbury. Clockwise, the 1986 farce about a punctuality-obsessed headmaster played by John Cleese, saw scenes filmed in Shrewsbury and Much Wenlock, as well as West Bromwich and Edgbaston.

Going back further into the archives, the 1950 film Gone to Earth, was filmed almost entirely in the county, including Much Wenlock, the point-to-point racecourse at Eyton, Longner Hall in Shrewsbury, Pontesford Hill, Snailbeach and the Devil's Chair at Stiperstones, where the gipsy casts her spell.

More recently, the county has been popular as the setting for Sherlock Holmes films, including the 2011 movie A Game of Shadows, and the 2020 film Enola Holmes, featuring Helena Bonham Carter and Henry Cavill.

Producer Michael Riley says he would definitely consider filming in the county in future.

He says: "I don't know Shropshire that well, I've done quite a lot of movies in London, where you get lots of jaded locals who are used to people filming, but everybody has been very welcoming here.

"One or two of the country lanes have been a little challenging, but we've enjoyed it here."

He adds that the film industry can bring great benefits to the local economy.

"Our crew have all been staying in the local hotels, eating in the local restaurants, and using the local shops. We were also casting locally for 100-120 acting roles and extras, so local people who want to appear in the film that way have had the chance to do that."

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