A Challenging Shoot
On August 18, 1986, filming of A Month in the Country began on location at St. Mary’s church in Radnage, Buckinghamshire.
The producer Kenith Trodd had faith in A Month in the Country. After buying the rights to J. L. Carr’s novel for his production company, PFH Ltd, he’d upgraded his original plan for a made-for-TV movie to one for a feature film. He had brought in Simon Gray to write the screenplay, and hired Pat O’Connor to direct. Still, neither he nor anyone else involved had any illusion that they were working in blockbuster territory.
The film’s financial backing had already fallen apart once. It was now patched together between Euston Films (a Thames Television subsidiary that had only made one theatrical release in 14 years) and Channel Four. With the success of pictures such as My Beautiful Laundrette, the growing U.S. market for small British independent films had not gone unnoticed in London production offices. “We think we ought to be in low-budget features, too,” John Hambley of Euston Films told Variety. From the outset A Month in the Country was planned to be a small film on a slim budget.
The first hurdle the production ran into was a result of that tight accounting. “The film is clearly set in Yorkshire,” Kenith Trodd explained, “but we discovered it would cost an extra £250,000 to maintain a crew there.” The sum would have been a quarter of the entire film budget — impossible. “We eventually settled on Bray Studios [not far from London] and it became a challenge to try and find 1920s England in commuter land!” St. Mary’s in Radnage was only an hour west of the capital. Pat O’Connor remained calm: “Being Irish, I figured I could make Buckinghamshire look like Yorkshire.”
The second constraint was also related to finances. They were limited to a whiplash shooting schedule of only 28 days — during which Kenneth Branagh would only be available for two weeks.
Third and finally, Mr. Branagh had just opened as Romeo in his own production of Romeo and Juliet and was due onstage at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith in London every night. This not only meant exhausting double duty for the actor, but juggling the daily filming so that he could jump in a studio car in time to beat commuter traffic.
If anything was clear when the company gathered at St. Mary’s church, it was that there was no padding, anywhere, in the schedule. And then the other shoe dropped. Colin Firth recalled, “One of the first scenes we shot consisted of me standing outside the church bawling, ‘God! What God? There is no God!’ At that moment the heavens opened and unleashed the rainiest August of the decade on to the entire shoot.”
Over the next week there were only brief dry spells before the tail of Hurricane Charley crossed the Atlantic to hit Ireland and Britain with gale force winds and heavy rains, flooding rivers and coastal towns, downing trees and power lines, and forcing rescue evacuations. It was said to be the worst August storm in 45 years and the wettest two days in Britain since records had been kept. Even when Charley blew over, the drizzle went on. And on. Colin Firth wrote, “The hot, hazy summer, quite indispensable to the story, had to be fought for between gaps in the clouds.”
In the end, with great effort and artfulness, none of that strain touched the film. Without irony many reviewers commended the bright “sun-flecked” photography. (For the discerning viewer the only hint of the constant rain can be seen in Birkin’s hair. Mr. Firth’s curls had been cut short and blown straight for the part; in the relentless humidity his hair occasionally rose to stand upright.)
The combined pressure of time, budget, and weather on cast and crew was intense. “I won’t do it again,” Pat O’Connor said grimly when it was all over. Yet for him, as for many others, the experience of making A Month in the Country — rain and all — would become a fond memory.
“One of my favorite films,” Colin Firth recalled in a radio interview in 2005. “I absolutely loved every minute of it.”