Produced by: Nick Barton Produced by: Joe Oppenheimer Staring



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SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS

PRODUCTION NOTES

Directed by: Philippa Lowthorpe

Produced by: Nick Barton

Produced by: Joe Oppenheimer

Staring: Rafe Spall, Kelly Macdonald, Orla Hill, and Dan Skinner.

STUDIOCANAL Publicity Contacts

Lucy Powell: Lucy.Powell@studiocanal.co.uk, 0207 534 2700

Natacha Clarke: Natacha.Clarke@studiocanal.co.uk, 0207 534 2700

Jessica Brown: Jessica.Brown@Studiocanal.co.uk, 0207 534 2700



Release Date: 19th August 2016

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Certificate: TBC

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION 3

SHORT SYNOPSIS 4

LONG SYNOPSIS 4

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION 7

THE CAST AND THEIR CHARACTERS 16

CAST BIOGRAPHIES 18

THE PRODUCTION TEAM 21

INTRODUCTION

SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS is the modern adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s much loved novel; a story of daring adventure and exploration as four children set off on the summer holiday of a life-time.

Rafe Spall (“Life of Pi”, “The Big Short”) Andrew Scott (“’Spectre”, and a BAFTA-winner for TV’s “Sherlock”) and Kelly Macdonald (“No Country for Old Men”, and a Golden Globe-nominee for TV’s “Broadwalk Empire”) star, sharing the screen with promising newcomers Dane Hughes, Orla Hill, Teddie Rose Malleson-Allen, Bobby McCulloch, Seren Hawkes, and Hannah Jayne Thorp as the titular warring children.

Jessica Hynes (“Shaun of the Dead”); Harry Enfield (“Kevin & Perry Go Large”); Elizabeth Berrington (“In Bruges”); and Dan Skinner (“High-Rise”) complete a superlative supporting cast.

Acclaimed British filmmaker Philippa Lowthorpe (TV’s “The Other Boleyn Girl”, “Call The Midwife”) directs from a screenplay by Andrea Gibb (“Dear Frankie”) based on Arthur Ransome’s children’s classic. Nick Barton (“Calendar Girls”, “Kinky Boots”) of Harbour Pictures Productions; Nick O’Hagan; and BBC Films’ Joe Oppenheimer produce the film, with BBC Films’ Christine Langan; the BFI’s Natascha Wharton; Danny Perkins, Dan MacRae and Jenny Borgars of STUDIOCANAL; Alexa Seligman and John Jencks of The Electric Shadow Company; HanWay Films’ Peter Watson, Thorsten Schumacher and Patrick Fischer; Screen Yorkshire’s Hugo Heppell; Steve Milne; and Ian Maiden all on board as Executive Producers.

Talent behind the camera includes the likes of Director of Photography Julian Court (TV’s “Luther”), Editor Dave Thrasher (TV’s “Death Comes to Pemberley”), Costume Designer Amy Roberts (BAFTA-winner for TV’s “The Virgin Queen”), Hair and Make-up Designer Jill Sweeney (‘Cider With Rosie”), Production Designer Suzie Davies (Academy Award©-nominated for “Mr. Turner”), and Composer Ilan Eshkeri (“The Young Victoria”).

Harbour Pictures Productions developed the project with BBC Films and the BFI. The film received funding from Screen Yorkshire’s Yorkshire Content Fund, The Electric Shadow Company, and Maiden Investments. STUDIOCANAL will distribute Swallows and Amazons in the UK. HanWay Films is handling international sales.

The film was shot in the Lake District, Yorkshire and Scotland over the summer of 2015.

SHORT SYNOPSIS

SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS follows four children dreaming of escape from the tedium of a summer holiday in the Lake District with their mother. When finally given permission to camp on their own on a remote island in the middle of a vast lake, they are overjoyed. But when they get there they discover they may not be alone... As a desperate battle for ownership of the island ensues, the real dangers of an adult world on the brink of war encroach on their paradise in the form of a mysterious pair of Russian spies hot on the tail of the enigmatic Jim Turner. As the sleepy British summer is turned on its head, the children must learn skills of survival, responsibility, and the all-important value of friendship. Steeped in the wonder of a child’s imagination and set against the breath-taking backdrop of the Lakes, this is an exhilarating adaptation of a treasured classic.



LONG SYNOPSIS

1935: The Walker clan dash to Portsmouth Harbour station to catch a train for the start of their summer holidays. Mother shepherds her flock – headstrong eldest John, intelligent Susan, imaginative Tatty, boisterous Roger, and baby Vicky - through the busy crowds of travellers and milling naval officers, and past a mysterious lingering pair of strangers clad in long overcoats.

Once the train departs, she doles out presents from their absent father – said to be away on a mysterious naval mission in the South China Seas. For John: his trusty penknife. For Tatty: a journal. And as they chug slowly north, their thoughts turning to the excitement of the summer ahead, Tatty marks the first page with the words: ‘The Adventure Begins..’

As if on cue; swashbuckling Jim Turner drops in to the Walker carriage with his own secret agenda to shake off the unwanted attentions of Lazlov and Zukin, the mysterious pair seen on the platform at Portsmouth. He soon slips out of the duo’s clutches, but as the train finally pulls into Rio Station, right in the heart of the Lake District, Roger realizes that the Walkers aren’t the only travellers to disembark... Lazlov and Zukin step menacingly on to the platform behind them...

The family arrive at Holly Howe Farm: home to the Jacksons, their hosts for the summer once again. With greetings hastily dealt with, the children hurry off to their favourite haunt, Darien Peak – an enchanting vista gazing out over an expanse of shimmering lake and dramatic mountains: their playground for the next couple of months. In the distance they spot it - The Island - the undiscovered green jewel in the middle of the lake that their father had promised he would one day take them to explore.

It feels a long way away, but John isn’t prepared to give up on the dream. He urges his mother to let them conquer the island on The Swallow, a beautiful sailing dinghy stored in the Jacksons’ boathouse. Unconvinced of the idea of letting her brood run loose, she insists they wait for their father’s permission. As Mrs. Walker heads into Rio to send word of their plans via telegram, once again the children cross paths with Lazlov and Zukin, as the shady duo charm the local postmistress into revealing the whereabouts of an ‘old colleague’, the travel writer, Jim Turner.

Waiting for word back from their father, the children skim stones on the beach, inadvertently sending one flying through the window of a run-down old houseboat. As they flee, Jim Turner steps out onto the deck livid. Tatty turns to see Jim standing there – strong and tall – just as a green parrot swoops out the porthole and settles on his shoulder. Looking every inch the true pirate; the children begin calling him Captain Flint.

Watching Turner emerge through their binoculars, Lazlov and Zukin smile broadly from their hiding place; their conversation switching effortlessly into Russian. They have their orders: to capture the man and secure the documents on his boat. Surely they’ve got him now. And as they keep watch, they listen to Turner break into an old Russian song of his own. Clearly, he’s not what he seems either...

A telegram arrives from Father: ‘Better Drowned than Duffers if not Duffers Won’t Drown.’ They have his permission! Waved off by the adults; The Swallow sets sail into the unknown. And despite the odd mishap, Captain John leads his siblings to The Island, touching down on a pebble beach; as Tatty cries ‘Swallows forever!’ and claims Walker Island as their own.

Heading out on an early morning expedition the next day, John and Tatty come across the home of Old and Young Billy, fearsome-looking charcoal-burners living on the hillside. In exchange for some invaluable advice on making fire, John is asked to carry a message to Turner’s houseboat – warning him of the presence of Lazlov and Zukin. He does as he is bidden, but Turner is not on-board. Unable to resist looking around, John’s eyes pop as he takes in the houseboat’s array of treasures: maps of Russia, photos of naval yards, plans for something that looks suspiciously like a rocket...and a gun. Jim returns to catch him in the act – banishing the boy from his boat, and locking the plans in his chest.

Back on the island, Susan and Roger have problems of their own; first stumbling across a sinister sign in the bushes; ‘No Trespassing. Danger of Death – The Amazons’, before an approaching boat hoves into view. It is The Amazon - raising the black flag of the Jolly Roger – and firing a flare at John and Tatty in the returning Swallow. The Walkers give chase, but The Amazon is superior. John watches agape as its crew are revealed to be two girls – Nancy and Peggy Blackett. He vows revenge. For the Blackett girls, the summer just got a whole lot more interesting.

The Swallows pull in to Rio Harbour searching for their new enemies. Roger, left with Father’s knife to stand guard over their boat, watches as Jim Turner pulls into harbour, followed as ever by Lazlov and Zukin... As Turner heads into town, Lazlov creeps onboard the houseboat, searching for the secret documents. Roger drops the knife in fright, right at the Russian’s feet. The youngster takes off as his siblings return, having once again been given the slip by their rivals.

Returning to the island, The Swallows find themselves under fire, as the Amazons launch an assault on their camp. The Walkers escape with a heart-stopping leap off Death Rock, but soon find themselves once more at the mercy of the Blackett girls. ‘This is Wild Cat Island’, the sisters declare, drawing their bows. The warring clans parley in Secret Harbour, and finally agree to settle the feud on the high seas: If one can capture the other’s boat then the island is theirs...

As the Walkers spend the evening drawing up battle-plans, the Blacketts spend theirs with their mother. Their uncle pays a rare visit: it’s Jim Turner - Captain Flint himself – earning Nancy’s cold-shoulder as he announces that once again he has to leave them for a trip abroad. Yet heading back to his houseboat, he finds his chest of documents gone, and John’s knife protruding from the floor... Certain he has his culprit; he places a call to the Harbour Master calling for John’s arrest. Upon placing the phone down, he hears a familiar Russian tune... Lazlov and Zukin stand behind him, guns trained at his chest. They question why he has stolen Russian military secrets, and offer him the chance to turn double-agent and spy for them. When he refuses, they knock him out cold.

That same night, the Walkers and Blacketts put their plans into motion, both looking to catch the other unawares with a surprise attack. As The Swallow sets off to The Amazon’s boathouse, their adversaries launch a raid on the Walker’s camp, rashly vacating their boat, and leaving the lurking Tatty free to sneak past and slip onto The Amazon.

The Walkers have won!

The warring clans call a truce: Swallows and Amazons allies at last. Their battle has been the highlight of the summer. The two families camp down for the night and play; yet the dawn brings a rude awakening as Mrs. Walker arrives at camp furious, with John stood accused of the theft of Turner’s old chest.

Back at the Jackson’s home and very much in the doghouse, John listens to Tatty, as she explains what she saw the previous night as she drifted in the lake on their rival’s boat, witnessing a body and chest dropped from Turner’s houseboat and onto a waiting motorboat. The Walkers piece the puzzle together – and signal to Nancy and Peggy, with the dark news that their uncle’s life is on the line.

Swallows and Amazons sail side-by-side to save Jim Turner. As a Russian seaplane sits on the lake, preparing to extract the spies and their stricken captive, the children’s boats come together in a daring act of seafaring bravery to trap the plane and delay its flight. Their actions buy Turner precious seconds, as a desperate fight on-board ensues. Finally, Turner bests Lazlov and Zukin – and the villains are caught!

Turner gives his thanks to John – the boy’s bravery winning his respect at last. And as a punishment for his summer of misjudgement and neglect, a gleeful and united Swallows and Amazons force a laughing Jim to walk the plank – ending their holiday by defeating the notorious pirate of their imaginations, Captain Flint.



ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

Setting sail

The classic tale of six children on the summer holiday of a lifetime, Arthur Ransome’s SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS sits on the bookshelves of millions around the world; a cornerstone of British literary culture. The author’s fond memories of an idyllic summer spent teaching children to sail on the Lakes served as the inspiration for a rip-roaring story of friendship, family, and adventure set amidst the stunning backdrop of the Cumbria countryside. Unexplored on the big screen for over 40 years, the tale was ripe for a revival - with its themes of exploration and self-discovery serving as a potent reminder of the myriad possibilities of the imagination and the simple joys of the outdoors.

For independent producer Nick Barton of Harbour Pictures Productions, Ransome’s novel had left ‘an indelible impression’ ever since he’d picked it up off the bookshelf at the tender age of 12. It seemed to capture the thirst for exploration that he shared with so many of that age: “I always thought what fun it would be to camp on an island and have an adventure of my own”. Yet it was only in 1992 – when he bought a boat that resembled a larger version of Amazon – that he truly began to understand the thrill that sailing must have brought the author and his characters. “I started sailing every weekend of the season on the coast in Norfolk... Big waves, challenging conditions; It became, as I believe it does for all those who sail, a whole new dimension to life”. And with each passing weekend on the water, the yearning to bring Ransome’s story to the big screen for the first time since Claude Whatham’s much-loved 1974 effort grew. “I thought ‘Now I’ve got to do it. Now I’ve got to find a way of making this film’”.

It would be fifteen years later in 2007 that Barton would truly set the wheels in motion on his passion project. He began negotiating the rights to the novel with the Ransome Estate, with whom he would grow to enjoy an enormously collaborative relationship – a complicated process that would take two years to successfully complete. Simultaneously that same year, Barton approached BBC Films with his vision; and, crucially, identified and secured the writer Andrea Gibb to handle the treatment and early drafts of the screenplay. Her work on the award-winning Dear Frankie had already drawn acclaim and showcased her rich skills at authentically giving voice to child characters, and Barton believes that “she’s proved to be the perfect writer for the project” – playing an integral part in the film’s development over the best part of a decade.

Excited by the challenge of writing an “Into the Wild for kids”, Ransome’s text resonated with Gibb as both an “evocation of childhood and a story about children in various stages in their development.” She was “fascinated by the way the child looks at the world, and how the child sees the world, and how the child relates to the adult world. It’s very universal. It cuts across class.” Its weighty themes – deftly threaded into the engaging narrative – also attracted the writer. ”I’m always true to the essence of what the author originally intended, and that is really the essence. It’s looking at loyalty, betrayal, duty, responsibility, and injustice.”

Two key creative decisions would make their way into Gibb’s screenplay, as the writer and Barton sought to give Ransome’s novel a fresh new take for the big screen. “We decided to move the period just slightly from 1929 to 1935,” says Barton, “so it was closer to World War II. The Walker children’s father was in the navy, and it just added another dimension to the story”. Additionally, “when we looked at Arthur Ransome, we discovered there was a lot more to him than most people realised,” Barton adds. “As part of my research, what I discovered was that in 1917 he was over in Russia to cover the Russian Revolution for the Manchester Guardian and he was suspected by the Bolsheviks of being a spy for Britain, and he was strongly suspected by MI5 in Britain for being a spy for the Russians. Partly because his mistress (he was married at the time) was Trotsky’s secretary. You couldn’t make that story up!” Indeed, it was finally revealed that Ransome had been recruited by MI6, serving under the codename S76. With the support of The Ransome Trustees – keen to educate audiences on the author’s extraordinary double life – a decision was made to weave elements of Ransome’s fascinating true-life escapades into the script.

Ransome had always presented the enigmatic character of Jim Turner as something of an alter-ego in the original novel, and so Gibb simply worked to imbue Turner with the recently-discovered details of the author’s life, and introduce the shadowy Russian spies Lazlov and Zukin into proceedings to act as worthy adversaries. “We’ve made Arthur Ransome’s actual real-life story our subplot, if you like, or our B-story,” reveals Gibb. “There is actual, real-life danger. So you have the imaginative danger that the kids are living in with their war against the Amazons...and then there’s the real danger that exists around and about them, and the two stories converge and join up in, I hope, quite an organic way.”

The additions enabled the pair to keep Ransome’s text at the film’s core, whilst providing an additional shot of adrenaline for the modern audience. “When we were adapting it, we had to really consider things like jeopardy and the contemporary audience and what we were going to do to the story to make the narrative flow and to keep the contemporary kids with us,” explains the writer, with Barton adding “We’re aware that we needed to be truthful to the characters of the children, the period, the story itself… but at the same time present a film that could compete with big, modern day action adventure films. We felt adding this spy story gave us the perfect opportunity to enhance the action and adventure in Ransome’s stories, whilst remaining true to the text.”

With a first draft of the script delivered and the project shaping up nicely over the course of the next few years, Barton was eventually joined at the helm by first independent producer Nick O’Hagan; and later by BBC Films Development Executive Joe Oppenheimer. Together they sought out a director to work alongside Gibb in the script development process. Oppenheimer remembers the moment they found the perfect match in Philippa Lowthorpe, helmer of the acclaimed BBC adaptation of Cider with Rosie: ‘When Nick and I met Philippa to hear her talk about this project, it was very clear that we’d found the perfect person. She was completely engaged with the idea of these children being in the world for real - really experiencing the exhilaration of this adventure for themselves.’ Her previous experience on the likes of A Childhood and Remember the Family was a further draw for the production team. “She was a documentary maker before she started doing drama, and so that sense of capturing reality as it happens comes very naturally to her, but she also wants to shoot big action sequences.”

The incoming director shared the mindset of the core team. “What was very important in the adaptation was to keep it feeling authentic, but also give it a real freshness, and that’s not to be disrespectful to the original material, but to also be mindful of a modern, contemporary audience,” says Lowthorpe. She was aided in her desire to modernize the tale by Ransome’s own ahead-of-the-time attitudes to gender roles and his pioneering multi-layered depictions of children on the path to adulthood – enabling Lowthorpe to ensure the “characters feel very accessible to all of us today, while keeping the very, very important thing that Arthur Ransome was concerned with: about the spirit of adventure for children; taking risks; the tremendous freedom that we don’t allow our children to have today.”

Gibb and her director quickly formed a blossoming relationship, with the writer heading west for a two-day Bristol boot-camp to bounce about thoughts on the first draft and discuss the task ahead. “We’re almost symbiotic now,” says Gibb. ”She came in and she basically empowered me, I would say, which, as a writer, you’re desperate for a director to do that. You don’t want a director to come in and sit on you and squash your ideas. You want a director to come in and open you up and make you feel confident and give you encouragement and inspiration and basically be your collaborator.” Further drafts followed, with writer and director sending back and forth scenes and notes, honing the team’s shared vision. Barton was delighted with the results: “It was brilliant. We were thrilled to see how well they worked together.”

Swallows and Amazons

With the script and story locked, and the core creative team in place, the next step for Lowthorpe and the producers was finding their Swallows and Amazons – the boys and girls who would become the film’s stars. “We wanted the children to be as natural as possible,” Barton recollects, “We were all agreed on that. Therefore, we looked at a lot of children who hadn’t acted before.” Working alongside leading Casting Director Shaheen Baig, they began the arduous process of scouring the country to uncover school children with both the necessary talent and the distinct look of both key clans: ‘It was very important that the families looked like families,” says Lowthorpe. Concentrating on schools in the Portsmouth area to uncover their Walkers, and heading up to the Lakes for their Blacketts; over 800 children were auditioned in total, with a series of workshops launched to identify those future stars “who had a tiny little spark or who looked particularly right,” remembers Lowthorpe. “In the end, as you shuffle people around, this family emerged, the Walker family, with these four children, and the sisters of the Amazons as well.” To ensure authenticity, the final few were sent to a final audition taking place at a sailing club “so we could determine which ones could be believable on the boats,” says Barton, “That doesn’t always work as some people are very nervous of water.” But once the children had shown that they were comfortable with the choppy waters that would become their on-screen homes throughout the shoot, the decision was made and the team zeroed in on their chosen Swallows and Amazons.

Taking on the integral role of John Walker, the eldest child on the cusp of adulthood and forced to assume the mantle of responsibility for his siblings, Dane Hughes was the unanimous choice. Required to come of age on-screen; it was a tricky proposition for any actor, let alone one so young, but his director is hugely excited by what Hughes brought to the part: “He’s just got something about him, that boy. He’s very centred. He’s got incredible intensity and power and a wonderful stillness that’s really rare to find in adult actors, never mind in young people.” And joining Hughes on the train up to the Lakes was another blossoming talent, Orla Hill as Susan, the practical eldest girl with a scientific mind and love of nature. Hill shone in auditions with her ability to bring what Lowthorpe calls “a wonderful gracefulness and poise and kind of delicacy to the part”.

For the role of Tatty – the character Gibb calls “the imaginative, emotional heart of the film” – the team identified Teddie Malleson-Allen. A small but stand-out part in Lowthorpe’s Cider with Rosie had convinced the director of her potential, an impression confirmed throughout the lengthy audition process: “She’d grown up. It was a year later, and I couldn’t believe her new confidence and presence. She’s a very witty girl, she’s incredibly bright, and she was at that age of nine where the world of make believe and reality are quite fluid, so she completely got the character of Tatty.” As the final piece in the Walker puzzle, the team plumped for Bobby McCulloch to take on the part of the endlessly inquisitive youngest sibling Roger. Though he boasted only two inauspicious theatrical credits to his name (“It was a three hour play and all I had to do was bow!” McCulloch says of one), Barton says McCulloch was “extraordinary” in the final sailing auditions. “He immediately became Roger Walker – trying to hang off the side of the boat and nearly falling in!” His director agreed with the assessment, watching McCulloch “grow and grow and grow through the process of the auditions”, before delivering a performance that captured Roger’s fledgling spirit of adventure.

Having secured their Walkers; attentions now moved to finding the rebellious Blackett sisters. “Proto-feminists,” says Gibb. Lowthorpe agrees that the characters were startlingly modern: “They are definitely not your archetypal 1930s girl, and for that they are wonderful. They’re like warriors, and they are funny and brave and up to no good.” The much-coveted roles were eventually won by Hannah Thorp and Seren Hawkes as Peggy and Nancy respectively, with Hawkes in particular wowing filmmakers with the speed at which she took to the sailing – a handy trait for the Captain of the fearsome Amazon.

The young actors threw themselves headfirst into their roles, and harnessed by Lowthorpe’s inclusive set, soon formed the types of strong, quasi-familial attachments with their fellow cast-mates that translate so well on-screen. Like sisters the world over, Orla Hill would even read Teddie Malleson-Allen extracts from the Arthur Ransome novel aloud in their trailer between takes. “The children playing the Walker family had a tremendous rapport on and off screen, and they really grew so fond of each other during the shoot,” says their director. “They really kept each other going, and it was wonderful to see that develop actually. They got on incredibly well, and also, bizarrely, behaved like a family: having little spats now and again, winding each other up, just so natural together. I think that really helped the dynamics on screen.” Sworn enemies they might be, but the Swallows quickly made peace with their Amazon rivals on-set too. Hill confirms that they bonded: “We all got on really well...We sort of trusted each other enough to do the scenes where we were angry with each other without upsetting each other in a way.”

Oppenheimer is confident they’ve succeeded in finding the best possible young actors to bring the Swallows and Amazons to life. Lowthorpe “has a really, really great sense of what actors are going to bring when she turns the camera on, particularly with children. What she’s found with our six children are children that are so alive on camera, so real, so in-the-scene, and yet are able to be convincingly 1930’s children”. Gibb confirms that the children, rather appropriately, took to their roles “like ducks to water.” And for Lowthorpe, the end results have justified the long and painstaking audition process. “It’s like nothing else,” she laughs, “You set off on a journey when you’re casting. You think, ‘Who will it be? Who will we find?’, and when you find these children you can’t imagine them being anybody else.”

With the youngsters in place, the team set out to fill the key adult roles. Rafe Spall was signed to step into the shoes of the enigmatic Jim Turner aka Captain Flint. A veteran of comedy and drama, seen in the likes of Life of Pi, Prometheus, and television’s Black Mirror; Lowthorpe saw in the star the perfect mix of “1930s charm and menace. We don’t know at the beginning if Jim Turner is a good guy or bad guy, and I thought Rafe brought a fantastic ambiguity to the part, as well as being very dashing in real life”. Spall leapt at the opportunity to put his stamp on Ransome’s story – a tale he describes as “part of the fabric of British culture” – and was keen to work with Lowthorpe after delving deeper into the director’s back-catalogue, and being particularly impressed by Cider with Rosie. “I was extremely moved by it by its simplicity and what it was representing and I thought that was entirely applicable to our story. She seemed to work incredibly well with children and capture them in a very truthful, warm, beautiful and real light and I found that incredibly exciting.”

With Spall taking on something of a surrogate father role to the Amazons as their absent uncle Jim; Kelly Macdonald was welcomed on-board as Mrs. Walker, in charge of the Swallows as their own father works on a mysterious mission abroad. The producers were delighted to secure the participation of the Golden Globe-nominated Trainspotting and Broadwalk Empire star. “She has to carry that burden of being a very sensible, solid mum, but one who understands about adventure and has a warmth and an understanding with her children,” says Oppenheimer, “And Kelly has that inner strength that has a warmth to it as well, a lightness, a sense of humour. We’ve all seen her in roles of great seriousness, but also lightness in something like Nanny McPhee. We were really lucky to get her.” And for the writer Gibb, it was Macdonald’s work alongside Dane Hughes that particularly shone, enhancing his own character arc. “She expects a lot of him, but at the same time, she understands that desire to be free because it’s in her. That inner child is still kind of beating”.

Rounding out the remaining major roles were Elizabeth Berrington (“One of our finest actors,” says Spall, “I was thrilled to find out she was going to be in it”) as Mrs. Blackett; and comic giants Harry Enfield (sounded out about the role through a rather unusual show business connection: Lowthorpe’s dog happens to be Enfield’s dog’s father...) and Jessica Hynes as the Jacksons. Hynes was particularly excited to tell her family about securing the part: “My cousin could not believe it. He lives in America, and he was like ‘Are you kidding me? You are doing the film?’ For them it was a really big part for their childhood. I think for people who know the book and have loved the book, it’s really sort of important and special, if you have read it as a child, you have sort of lived it too. So I knew they’d love it”.

And arriving late to the project; Andrew Scott, on the rise after Spectre and his BAFTA-winning turn as Sherlock nemesis Moriarty, was signed to take on the integral role of Gibb-creation Lazlov. “We’re very lucky we found Andrew,” says Barton. Scott quickly formed an imposing double act with comedian Dan Skinner as their conniving pair of Russian agents squared up against Jim Turner, and provided a hefty shot of peril and villainy to Gibb’s pulsating script. “Together they add a real element of threat and danger to the film.” confirms Barton.

The adult cast were swiftly won over by their youthful counterparts. “None of the children at any point have asked me for any acting advice,” Spall laughs. “I don’t know if that’s because it’s just me or they don’t need any! I think children operate from a purely instinctive place...you don’t over-think things when you’re a kid. You can think yourselves in circles and into corners as an actor so it’s always really refreshing watching children and the way that they approach things. Actually its funny: kids can either be terrible or brilliant - there’s not really an in between - some of the best acting you’ll ever see is child acting and some of the worst is child acting, but if they manage in the right way they can be really exceptional and I really believe there is an exceptional group of kids in this film.” And Kelly Macdonald is in full agreement: “There is not a duffer among them. They are just brilliant and they make you up your game”.


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