Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth brought Hollywood to Berwick, posing for pictures with fans and signing autographs as they spent the day in town filming their forthcoming blockbuster. Local residents were cast as extras in scenes shot on the town walls and on the New Road under the Royal Border Bridge.
The Australian and Englishman are in the area to shoot part of the The Railway Man in Berwick-upon-Tweed and Holy Island.
The film adaptation of the best-selling book written by Berwick’s former prisoner of war Eric Lomax, has a budget of around £12 million and is due for release in 2013.
It tells the story of Lomax, now 92, who survived the Burma “death railway” after being tortured by his Japanese captors. Years later, he set out to find those responsible for his torture, travelling back to the bridge over the River Kwai. The mission was set up by wife Patti, whom he met on a train, with the help of a wartime colleague.
Firth is playing Lomax, and Kidman is playing the part of his wife, Patti. The stars were planning to meet Eric and Patti in Berwick.
Production bosses have been keen to keep details of filming times and locations a closely guarded secret, however it is understood the cast and crew were moving on to Bamburgh on Saturday, May 12. Filming began on April 30 and scenes are also being shot over a ten-week period in Edinburgh, Fife, Perth and East Lothian before the Hollywood production moves on to Thailand and Australia.
News of the filming on Holy Island and Berwick brought a buzz to both locations as camera crews, engineers, producers and actors occupied local hotels and inns.
Firth, Kidman and her children spent Thursday night at Tillmouth Park Hotel, near Cornhill. They are understood to have visited the Barn at Beal on Thursday after attempts to shoot scenes at Holy Island earlier that day had proved difficult due to rain.
Elaine Lang, whose runs the front office at Tillmouth Park Hotel, said: “They had booked months in advance. Colin Firth had spoken to a friend who is a regular guest with us and he had said it was the ‘best hotel on the planet’. How good is that? Nicole Kidman had her children with her and they had the best rooms, of course.”
Members of the production crew stayed at various locations, including Marshall Meadows and the granary youth hostel in Berwick. Others stayed on Holy Island.
Filming took place on Holy Island again first thing the next morning before the shoot moved on to Berwick. Heavy rain and low temperatures on Holy Island on Friday morning didn’t help. Janice Hnat from The Ship Inn said: “We had three cameramen staying and they got up at 4.30am for a sunrise picture. But all they had was clouds and rain – and they came back with no sunrise!”
Lindisfarne Hotel manager Sean Atkinson added: “They were all wrapped up like Nanook of the North – raincoats, hoods up, umbrellas, the lot. “They couldn’t have picked a worse day to come here, but the filming still went ahead.”
Firth and Kidman spent about an hour on the causeway while a handful of curious onlookers watched in very wet conditions.
They pair were filmed facing each another in the elevated hut, a refuge point for motorists who get stranded when the tide comes in.
Firth climbed down and ran off, with Kidman calling “Eric! Eric!” after him.
The celebrity scene had been a well-guarded secret on the mainland – but not on the island. “Everyone here knew about it,” added Sean.
The production crew set up camp in the overspill area next to the Castlegate car park on Friday morning, and there were plenty of gobsmacked faces among the locals in Berwick when the stars arrived later to film scenes on the New Road and at various locations on the town walls.
Firth and Kidman were filmed walking along the New Road under the Royal Border Bridge with lots of sea gulls for company.
Next up, they were strolling along the walls by the Cromwellian Church, tracked by cameras and watched by excited Berwickers. Some locals were even cast as extras.
With a final shout of “Cut!”, the scene was over. Kidman gaves the crowd a wave before getting into her car to go for a late lunch at 3pm. Firth followed his co-star, pausing at the gates by the barracks to pose for pictures and sign some autographs.
Kidman was hoping to meet Patti in Berwick during her short time in the area, but Firth has already visited the town twice to meet Lomax.
Captured at the fall of Singapore in 1941, Lomax gained fame by later confronting his Japanese captors and in 2007 receiving a personal apology for his barbaric prisoner-of-war treatment from Osamu Komai, son of Captain Matsuo Komai, who was hanged as a war criminal.
Lomax, who comes from Edinburgh but lives in Berwick, was a lieutenant in the Royal Corps of Signals when he was captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in 1942.