Residents slip into film roles

HISTORIC Winchelsea was transformed into a film set last Sunday.

The film The Red Slipper is a re-telling of a small episode in the town’s history as part of a community film project.

The episode happened in 1899, when a column of troops marched through Winchelsea, enroute for the Boer War. A little girl, in her excitement at the spectacle of marching soldiers and cheering townsfolk, threw one of her red felt slippers to a soldier, who kept it as lucky charm. That girl’s sister, Katharina Forbes-Dunlop, related the story a lifetime later, in 1988.

Some 60-70 locals took the part of soldiers and townsfolk. Extras included local postman Philip Laverton, playing the local postman, and PC Richard Perchard playing the local bobby. Both were resplendent in Victorian uniforms. Katharine and her sister (Nell) were played by Sammy Bailey and Mia Smith.

The amateurs were joined by veteran actor, Sir Donald Sinden, who played Sir Henry Irving. In the film, the great Victorian actor is visiting Ellen Terry (played by Helen Gray) at Tower Cottage, her home in Winchelsea, and the two of them watch the troops pass by, from her garden overlooking Strand Hill.

“It was very appropriate to have one great actor playing another,” said executive producer Richard Comotto. ”And we were so thrilled that Sir Donald agreed to take part. He was a charismatic presence on the set and a real gentleman.”

Most of the filming took place around the Strand Gate and the Lookout in Winchelsea. The Strand Hill was closed for the day. White lines had to be covered up and a traffic mirror removed, although on the whole, the scene has not changed that much since 1899.

Behind the scenes, more local volunteers took on the jobs of production crew, wardrobe and make-up. Filming was done by Rye Harbour-based youth vocational training charity, Entertainment Workshops. The cameramen were John Phillips and EW trainees, Ryan Card and George Hanks.

Director Shaun Taberer praised everyone who took part, commenting: “Filming is a long hard slog, with lots of repetition and extended periods of inactivity between shoots. But everyone, in front of and behind the camera, cheerfully stuck at it and I think enjoyed the experience. And we have some very good footage.”

The community film project was funded by Rother District Council’s Arts Development Officer, Melanie Powell, with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s All Our Stories programme, as well as the parish council, but the bulk of the money was raised by Winchelsea Moving Pictures, the society which normally runs Winchelsea Film Night.

It is hoped that the film will be premiered in early January next year at an event in Winchelsea to raise money for Help for Heroes, partly as a tribute to the troops portrayed in the film.

Retired Army officer Anthony Kimber of Rye has researched the story and thinks they were the 3rd Battalion, the Sussex Regiment.