Resort at forefront of British film industry

Scenes from Timothy Spall and Juno Temple's new film Away, which was primarily shot on location in Blackpool
Scenes from Timothy Spall and Juno Temple's new film Away, which was primarily shot on location in Blackpool
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The Fylde Coast is taking its place at the forefront of Britain’s booming movie industry — with yet another film set here released in cinemas today.

Away, which stars Hollywood actor Timothy Spall and Dark Knight Rises actress Juno Temple, was filmed almost entirely on the Fylde coast.

It comes as film crews continue to shoot another movie in the resort, and just weeks after Sir Daniel Day Lewis shot a glittering party sequence in the Tower Ballroom. And last year, audiences around the world watched as the resort was shown off in all its glory in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

Away producer Terry Stone said he hopes the film will boost tourist numbers in the town, and added: “I think Blackpool will be proud.”

Tourism bosses said they believe the resort’s “unique locations”, low production costs and local support for the industry are making Blackpool a big draw for 
film-makers.

It may not have the year-round sunshine of Hollywood or the glamour of Cannes, but Blackpool is building its reputation as a popular filming location as yet another release puts the resort firmly in the spotlight.

This weekend, low budget Brit flick Away, starring big hitters Timothy Spall and Juno Temple, is finally released into limited cinemas, more than two years after the crew came to Blackpool to shoot the film.

The pair play lost souls Joseph, in mourning over the death of his wife, and Ria, on the run from an abusive relationship.

Their paths collide in Blackpool, and Away charts their blossoming relationship in a ‘story of love, of loss, and of hope played out against the magical backdrop of Blackpool’.

Spall, 60, is more accustomed to the bright lights of big budget blockbusters such as the Harry Potter franchise, in which he played Wormtail, but said he wanted a different challenge.

He said: “I feel absolutely that I want it to be different, more textured, deeper, realer.”

And the shoot was indeed different. It was filmed entirely in and around Blackpool during five weeks in March and April 2015, just a few weeks before Tim Burton arrived in town to shoot Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. Even scenes at the start of the film, set in London, were shot in Kirkham.

Locations in the resort included the Sea Life Centre, the Winter Gardens, Illuminasia, Tower and Tower Ballroom, and Blackpool Pleasure Beach – making Blackpool just as much a star of the film as the actors.

Producers Stone and Richard Turner were keen to sing the town’s praises following the shoot.

“People are going to see this film and go, ‘Wow! Is that Blackpool?’”, Terry said.

“You wouldn’t know necessarily about Illuminasia or the ballroom as an outsider, you have got to be here to appreciate it.

“If you say ‘Blackpool’ to people, it’s a case of ‘Okay, there’s a beach and shows’.

“But when you’re here and integrating yourself in the area and see what it has to offer, it’s something else.”

As filmmakers, the team enjoyed the diversity on offer in the resort, from the glamour of the ballrooms to the squalor of rundown backstreets.

The variety means less travelling to between locations for cast and crew, which cuts down on wasted time and money.

Terry added: “It’s hard not to make Blackpool look beautiful. It has a great look, day and night.

“And it’s interesting. We filmed in a run-down part of town, and then we’ll go up on the seafront with the Lights or up the Tower, and it’s gorgeous.

“You see stuff you wouldn’t normally see coming here. If you go anywhere in England, there are good and bad parts.

“When the film Mona Lisa Smile came out, people went to Brighton and did things from that film there, and we hope to see the same happen in Blackpool.

“I think Blackpool will be proud.”

Richard added: “It’s been a great experience coming to Blackpool. It’s like a star of the film itself.

“We will make Blackpool look beautiful.”

The 15-rated film was slated for a late 2015 or early 2016 release but, despite showing to audiences at the 70th Edinburgh Film Festival last year, it has only now secured screenings at cinemas — and even that’s just a limited release.

Despite hopes of hosting a premiere – or at least a special screening in Blackpool – the film is not currently listed at either Vue in Cleveleys, or Odeon or The Regent Cinema in the town.

For those unwilling or unable to travel, the film is due to be released on DVD from Monday, which Vue’s manager Graham Royston blamed for its lack of screening.

“As Away is being released on DVD on May 15, it is not receiving a full theatrical release and will not be showing at any Vue sites,” he said.

But if the film does well, there are hopes it could be given a wider release.

Richard Taylor, who reopened the historic Regent Cinema, in Church Street, last year, said: “I would expect, if there’s demand, they will try and cash in on that. It’s great news for the town, all positive publicity is welcomed.

“People want to come and see films and if they can be tied into something they can relate to, such as Blackpool, that’s definitely a draw.”

Just last month, Blackpool welcomed Hollywood royalty in the shape of Sir Daniel Day Lewis to the Tower Ballroom, to shoot a glittering party sequence for The Phantom Thread.

And shortly after Away was filmed, director Tim Burton brought the cast and crew of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children to town - shooting pivotal scenes from the film’s climax at the Tower Circus and on North Pier.

Kate Shane, head of the Merlin cluster of attractions in Blackpool, which includes the Tower, said part of the secret to Blackpool’s growing place in the film industry was the local support offered to location scouts and managers.

“We have unique locations, of course, but wherever they decide to film in Blackpool everybody is encouraging and helpful,” she said.

“Tim Burton didn’t necessarily only come back to Blackpool for Miss Peregrine’s because we’d looked after him when he shot The Killers’ video - but it definitely helped.

“They knew we would bend over backwards to make anything available, because it’s incredible to be showcased in that way.”

A spokesman for Visit Blackpool and Blackpool Council, which takes initial enquiries for filming opportunities in the town and helps coordinate such projects, said Blackpool works hard to make itself an attractive location, with ‘reasonable’ filming charges compared to other towns and cities.

The council works closely with government body Creative England which promotes potential film and TV locations nationally and internationally.

On average ‘three or four’ enquiries are made each week, with about two of these proceeding, and filming requests come in all round the year – albeit with an increase in the warmer months.

“The more we do, the more we get, the more people talk about Blackpool being a fantastic location,” a Visit Blackpool spokesman said.

“These feature films have all come here and happened in Blackpool because people in the industry have heard about us.

“They have scouted us, not us scouting them.”

Spending on film production in the UK reached a record £1.6 billion last year, boosted by the success of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and Bridget Jones’s Baby, which were all made in Britain.

Independent films, such as Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, Eddie The Eagle, and Dad’s Army, also fared well.

Matt Hancock, the minister of state for digital and culture, said: “These record-breaking production statistics demonstrate that the UK’s world-leading film sector continues to thrive, and that Britain remains open for business.”

And Amanda Nevill, chief executive officer of the British Film Institute, added: “Quintessentially British stories from leading British talent are generating investment, creating jobs, and winning audiences at home and across the globe.”

Fitting into that mould is the current movie shoot taking place in and around Blackpool, Eaten By Lions – a new comedy, in the vein of a contemporary East Is East-type story.

Manchester-based director Jason Wingard said Blackpool’s iconic skyline had helped ‘elevate the whole film and gives it production values’ and that the team had enjoyed the ‘freedom of the Prom’’.

“Visit Blackpool are looking out for the town’s image,” Jason said. “With comedy, you can’t wrap things in cotton wool and people want control of things, but we always knew anything we were doing wouldn’t reflect badly on Blackpool.

“The support has been great. People will come back if you have a place which is film friendly.

“And there’s no reason why Blackpool has to only be a seaside location on screen, it has everything you need to shoot British drama.”