Behind Beneath Hill 60: Trench Tales from the Cast and Crew

| 14 April , 2010 | 1 Reply

Keeva Stratton from Quip Creative

Beneath Hill 60 (2010)
Directed by: Jeremy Sims
Written by: David Roach

Starring: Brendan Cowell, Gyton Grantley, Bella Heathcoate

Speaking with the cast and crew of Beneath Hill 60 – the true Australian war story of a group of Aussie miners who were sent to the Western Front in World War 1 – offered its own lessons. A lesson on history, on creating and managing mud, on recreating the Western Front in all its magnitude in Townsville on a relatively small budget, and even a lesson on Rugby.

Though actor Brendan Cowell (who played Oliver Woodward) was quick to assert his anti-war stance, a sentiment few would disagree with today, it was apparent from the onset that this film was about respect. It was clear that the gravity of its subject matter resonated with the cast, both as actors, and as Australians.

Attempting to imagine spending months and even years in those tunnels was, according to Cowell, ‘more than just fighting an enemy, this was a war with your own sanity.\’ In preparing for the role he had familiarised himself with the real Oliver Woodward through his diaries. Every detail from his voice to his posture was a deliberate ode to the men of this bygone era: ‘they were real gentlemen, they were less gregarious back then and their sense of humour was drier.\’ His attention to detail clearly paid off with a performance that seemed channeled from nearly a century ago.

Bella Heathcote, who played Woodward\’s young love interest Marjorie Waddell, had her own conundrum. Referring to one of her more beautiful costumes she jokingly quipped, ‘I don\’t think I can get married now, because nothing could be as beautiful as that dress… I wouldn\’t know what to wear.\’ Clearly appreciative of the work of the costume department, Heathcote enjoyed the experience in playing a real life character, and could draw inspiration from viewing the sculptures that Waddell had herself created.

Surrounded by authentic pieces throughout the filming, from the costumes they wore, to the inclusion of a box, hand-carved by a young miner who never came home, filming soon became a very real experience for the cast, and the constant concrete presence of the past was no doubt quite humbling.

Gyton Grantley, who played Norman ‘Pull Through\’ Morris, summed it up well when he described the film as being less about the individual characters and more about portraying the larger, collective character of the Aussie Digger.

A Grantley that looked much friendlier and softer than the odd-yet-likable Norman, spoke fondly of his long days on an all male set, and of the challenges of spending hours together in confined spaces with an endless sea of mud. ‘We were together in very tight spaces for hours but thankfully everyone was well behaved. I don\’t think Ian Sparke (the costume designer) ever turned the washing machine off.\’

For a film that, according to director Jeremy Hartley Sims, ‘wasn\’t in the game plan\’, it would seem Beneath Hill 60 was a fortunate turn. Despite the immense physical challenges presented by recreating The Western Front in Townsville on a relatively small budget, Sims was able to craft a film that told an important story about the experience of war where he ‘intentionally did not want to make statements, but rather I wanted to tell a story of how scared they were, how hard it was.\’

What began for Sims as a minor script editing role, soon became a directing and co producing project and with it all the responsibility of telling an incredible Australian war story. There were few complaints about the difficult conditions, or about the cost of creating trenches, guns and explosions, for this was merely a film after all.  And to his credit, he succeeded; it is a very good film, and one Sims can be particularly proud to have made ‘with his mates.\’

You can read our movie review here and Beneath Hill 60 is in Cinemas Now!

Keeva

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