In Love with Alma Coogan
PUBLISHED: 15:16 09 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:36 20 February 2013
Behind the scenes at a new film set on Cromer Pier
In love with Cromer pier
In the month that sees film festivals and special screenings around Norfolk, Angi Kennedy talks to the people behind a new film, set on Cromer pier.
Many are the films to have used beautiful, windswept, dramatic and historic locations around Norfolk.
Numerous and talented too are the actors and actresses to have come out of or settled into this county.
So it is only right that a new film, being given a gala screening this month on the north Norfolk coast where it was shot, brings together both these aspects.
In Love with Alma Cogan stars Roger Lloyd Pack, who lives near Fakenham; was written and directed by Tony Britten, whose independent film company Capriol Films is based at Holt; and is set on the atmospheric Cromer pier, with extras from around the town.
One of its producers is Anwen Rees-Myers, wife of actor John Hurt, who lives near Cromer. She met up with Tony at the launch of the first Holt Festival, where he was the artistic director.
I knew Tony from years back when I used to be in musicals, she recalls. I auditioned for him several times but he never gave me a job! Tony sent his script to me and said to have a read. I thought it was charming. Then we heard that the pier was going to be renovated and thought: Lets do it!
They were keen to film at Cromer Pier before it was refurbished as the storyline called for it to look in need of a little TLC.
Tony says: I love the pier; there is nothing quite like it in this country.
Having pursued a successful career as a film, TV and theatre composer and conductor, with credits including from arranging and conducting the National Theatres Guys and Dolls and composing the Champions League anthem for UEFA, Tony founded Capriol Films in 1995. He wrote, directed and composed In Love With Alma Cogan, a gentle romantic comedy which also stars Niamh Cusack, Gwyneth Strong and Keith Barron.
We filmed it in the winter of 2010 when it never rose above 0 degrees the whole time we were filming, he says.
We had to melt the ice, and had loads of people come out of their homes in Cromer to help us shovel snow!
The people of the town were absolutely wonderful.
The Pavilion Theatre is the focus of much of the filming, along with the Red Lion pub, and a large sequence features Cromer lifeboat.
Tony, Anwen and producer Katja Mordaunt are now busy promoting it to film clubs, art centres and cinema in the community schemes. The film has already grabbed attention at film festivals, including winning the Canada International Film Award of Excellence.
Tony comments: There is something really interesting going on that we are only just scratching the surface of the alternative distribution network.
There are hundreds of film clubs, showing what their members want; people are taking back the control. It is a little bit of people power going on.
They are now working on a fascinating film about composer Benjamin Brittens school days at Greshams in Holt, focusing on the development of his pacifism which was a thread throughout his life and works. Pupils and teachers at the school are involved in the film which is due to be ready for release in 2013 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Brittens birth.
Three of the stars of In Love with Alma Cogan share their experiences of filming on the iconic Cromer pier.
Roger Lloyd Pack has had a home in north Norfolk for more than 40 years, having bought a property when he was filming The Go Between at Melton Constable Hall in 1970. He is married to poet and dramatist Jan Markham. Roger, whose career includes such memorable roles as Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, Owen in Vicar of Dibley and Barty Crouch Senior in the Harry Potter films, takes the lead in In Love with Alma Cogan.
Was it nice to be working on a production so close to your home? I enjoyed driving into Cromer to work. But the experience was somewhat less enjoyable than it might have been as I was also filming Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in London at the same time and travelling between the two in the harshest November weather within living memory!
Did you feel the support of the people of Cromer for this film? Yes, of course. Everyone in Cromer was very friendly and pleased to be part of the film.
What appealed to you about the character you play? I liked the idea of someone who was trying to hold on to the values of the past in the face of technological advance, something I empathise with, and I particularly enjoyed the storyline involving Alma Cogan, whom I remember well from that time.
Having been so successful in major productions for film, TV and theatre, have you enjoyed the opportunity to work with a Norfolk based independent film company? Yes. Its very hard to set up a film and I believe independent producers should get all the support they deserve.
Finally, do you have any favourite places or aspects of life in the county? Im not going to tell you about my very favourite places, because the reason theyre favourite is that theyre secret! But I love the Norfolk skies and I particularly love the coastline which is so varied. Theres a different kind of beach for every day of the week. If you can get the weather to go with them!
Niamh Cusack plays Sandra in the film In Love with Alma Cogan. The Irish actress, who starred in the TV series Heartbeat, is married to actor Finbar Lynch.
How did you became involved with the production? I was auditioned by Anwen and Tony in a tiny room in central London. I liked them both very much on first meeting. It was clearly a labour of love. And I was a big fan of Roger Lloyd Pack.
Could you tell us a little about Sandras story? Sandra is a woman who has devoted her life to other people: Her mother and Norman. But she has a dream shed like to travel and she loves to sing. And she discovers, by watching Norman fulfil his dream, that its worth fighting for these things.
What was it like filming on the pier in the coldest winter in years? I absolutely loved the Norfolk coast in winter. Having grown up by the sea in Ireland myself I felt at home. I loved the fact that there were not a lot of people about, and that I could walk for miles along the beach without meeting a soul.
Did you enjoy your time on the north Norfolk coast? I fell in love with Cromer. The people were so friendly. I love the little cinema there. I stayed in a gorgeous little fishermans cottage right by the harbour. It was incredibly romantic. I hope to go up there for a holiday with my husband this coming winter!
The film also features Welsh soprano Catrine Kirkman as Alma Cogan. Catrine is one of the stars of the 2012 Thursford Christmas Spectacular.
What was it like playing the pop star of the 1950s and 1960s? It was such a special experience. I found her such an inspiration; she was such a vibrant performer and, as she was known as the girl with a giggle in her voice, her unique style was great to try to copy. I tried to get as much of Almas joy at performing into my portrayal.
The costumes, a signature part of her style and character, were an inspiration, and the dresses made for the film were just wonderful and really helped me with get into character.
What will you be doing at Thursford this winter and are you looking forward to being part of this Norfolk tradition? I will be singing and dancing! The team behind the scenes at Thursford works very hard to program a mix of classical and more popular Christmas numbers, and Im very excited to find out what treats I will get to sing.
We start rehearsing in October, and we will have to dance, sing and act as it is a really exciting and dynamic show.
It is a great honour to have been selected to perform in such a famous show and I love being in Norfolk. I have friends and family nearby and it will be lovely to be able to invite them to see me sing. I just hope I can be as good as the show.