Pin Cushion - South Derbyshire on the silver screen

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 July 2018

Photo: Rob Baker-Ashton

Photo: Rob Baker-Ashton

film stills as supplied

Pin Cushion – the award-winning debut feature film from local director Deborah Haywood is on release in UK cinemas from 13th July. Nigel Powlson went on location while they were filming

Joanna Scanlan as LynnJoanna Scanlan as Lynn

Derbyshire has long been a magnet for film-makers looking to exploit the county’s majestic scenery and stock of historic houses. Pride and Prejudice, The Duchess, and The Other Boleyn Girl are among the costume dramas to have been shot in Derbyshire.

But Swadlincote and Church Gresley generally don’t feature on the location manager’s wish list for those kind of films. The biggest claim to fame for this corner of the county is producing John Hurt – the acclaimed actor starting life as a Woodville vicar’s son. But that may be about to change with the filming of a new British movie with a more contemporary story and no need for Chatsworth, Kedleston or Haddon.

Pin Cushion is a mother-daughter tale that marks the feature debut of writer-director Deborah Haywood after making her mark with short films. And it’s no coincidence that Swadlincote and Church Gresley should play such a prominent part in the movie as this is where Deborah grew up and these are the places she envisaged whilst writing the script.

Which is why in a cold, wet November two years ago the film crew set up base in Gresley Old Hall and began a four-week shoot that included filming at Pingle School, where Deborah was once a pupil.

Lily Newmark as Iona and  Joanna Scanlan as LynnLily Newmark as Iona and Joanna Scanlan as Lynn

Jamie Sumner, part of the location team, says that Deborah’s roots have helped enormously in gaining access to the places she wanted to film. He says: ‘Deborah imagined all the scenes in places where she had grown up – so it was already set in her mind where she wanted to film.

‘I was brought down to bring that vision into reality. It’s never quite that easy but the vast majority of the locations were what we wanted. Because of Deborah’s relationship with Pingle School we were able to get in there and film. And for all the houses in the area, the residents have been very friendly.’

When Derbyshire Life drops in on filming the crew are shooting a scene in Wilmot Street and have taken over two houses. The technical crew are based in the garage and there are cameras and cables winding their way into the street. Jamie says: ‘These were perfect for our story. The house next to our “hero” house has a wall round it as opposed to the hero house which is open in front – so the homes match the personalities of the people who live there. These are the kind of things we look for when picking a location. To be able to do this we have to build up a rapport with the real owners. The big advantage for us is that every single person I approached has met Deborah before or knew of her. That has helped enormously. If people just get a letter through their door asking for their home to be used in a film then they can be a bit wary but because Deborah is involved and a lot of people know her then we have got phone calls and secured locations that we wouldn’t have done otherwise.’

As well as the locations and the writer-director, the Derbyshire connections continue with the cast. Matlock comedy star Isy Suttie has a cameo role and This is England’s Chanel Cresswell is also part of the cast.

Chanel took a break from filming to return to another location – a house in Hastings Road where the kitchen is now part of the wardrobe department and where an upstairs bedroom is being used for make-up. She tells Derbyshire Life that she’s delighted to be filming in her home county. ‘I’m originally from Codnor, where I grew up, but I now live in Smalley. It’s a first for me filming in Derbyshire – the closest to home has been filming This is England in Nottingham. It’s great to be in my home county and be able to go home after.’

Chanel was sent the Pin Cushion script by her agent and was immediately impressed and eager to play the role of Belinda.

‘She was originally a lot older in the script,’ says Chanel. ‘But they lowered the age for me – which was really nice. Deborah phoned me to talk about the story and how she envisaged it. It’s really different and quirky and the project really intrigued me. Deborah also sounded just like me, which was great. Normally, it’s well-spoken London people ringing you up but Deborah automatically knows my terminology and speaks my language and we have had such a laugh on set – we are very similar.’

The role was also a big attraction for Chanel. ‘Belinda isn’t a very nice character and I enjoy playing mean – which sounds awful but as an actor it’s always interesting playing mean girls. There are so many different ways you can play them, there are more reasons for people being cruel than being nice.’

Chanel says that Deborah’s understanding of the time and place of the story has been a big plus, just as it was when she filmed the highly-acclaimed This is England with Shane Meadows. She says: ‘Shane is very heavily involved in his location settings as he loves the imagery in his films. He knows Nottingham very well and will go out and find the right locations. I got that story and felt rooted, just like with Pin Cushion, because it’s a story close to home.’

Chanel featured in the original This is England film and in the three TV series spin-offs – she won a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress for This is England 90 and has also featured in the Sky sitcom Trollied.

She says: ‘The interest in This is England was insane. It’s mostly improvised but I remember getting the script with the bones of what was going to happen and knowing I had to take on a meaty role and when you are going after the likes of Stephen Grahame and Vicky McClure who I have looked up to, as I’m 10 years younger, and then the weight is on me… I was very nervous but the reaction was very complimentary. I sat there reading the comments on social media with my mum and just cried. It was just me doing what I do and after I finished filming I just went onto another job. Then came the BAFTAs – it was mental that night. This is England really struck a chord because it’s real life issues and the characters are believable as they are a real group of friends.’

In Pin Cushion there is less improvisation with the cast sticking to Deborah’s well-honed script. Chanel says: ‘This is England stands on its own for what it is and every other job has been completely different. Generally I read a script and jot down what I think about the character. Then I read it again and go into the story behind, finding the subtext that makes a character behave that way, creating the back story. It’s a linking process for me. There’s also a lot of intuition – looking at a script and thinking “yes” I can do that. It’s also how you react to the other cast members on the day. Pin Cushion has been brilliant. We have all had a bit of giggle and everyone involved is really talented and very passionate about the film.’

Back at Gresley Old Hall, orders are being taken for lunch for the cast and crew, with food being cooked in a trailer in the car park. Part of the old miners’ community centre has been turned into the film’s wardrobe department and there’s a makeshift dressing room for Joanna Scanlan and a hive of activity as the crew plot the day’s filming and a bus waits in the car park to whisk the cast to the next location.

It hasn’t stopped the ballroom dancing session carrying on in the main room. There’s only a passing interest in the film from the locals – but they don’t seem to mind daily routines being subverted by a movie project.

‘I think we have found the perfect locations for the story,’ says Jamie. ‘I think it’s just what Deborah imagined.’ u

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