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Screening ACT in the cathedral
19th September 2007

History was made tonight

Just back from the screening of A Canterbury Tale in the nave of Canterbury cathedral. The first time a feature film has ever been screened there and most appropriate that they chose ACT which features the cathedral towards the end of the film. The Archers weren't allowed to film in the cathedral in 1943/44 and even if they had been it wouldn't have been too impressive because the stained glass windows had been taken out to protect them against the bombing and there was earth piled up along the aisles for putting out fires and to act as a soft landing for anything that fell from high up.

BBC South East organised all of this with help from Granada, Screen South and various others. They had been building up to it for a few weeks with segments in their regional news roundup magazine South East Today. They had joined us on our annual ACT location walk filming and interviewing some of us. Then they had gone to New York to interview Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese. So many thanks to Robin Gibson and all the people at BBC South East.

There was a huge turn out, they could have had 2,000 or more in there if only there had been room. But they couldn't seat people in the aisles, the pillars would have blocked their view. So they just seated 500 of us in the body of the cathedral.

The film was back projected onto a screen that was probably getting on for 20 feet high. The seats were just laid out flat, not many cathedrals have a raked floor. So I hope that those sitting towards the back had as good a view as we did up front. The sound echoed around the cathedral as you'd expect but it was still quite easily understandable and of course when they actually got to the cathedral towards the end of the film it was amazing to see the characters on screen walking up to where we were sitting and then to see the long shots inside the cathedral (or at Denham) and just look up and see the real thing! A huge round of applause at the end of course. It started when it said "The End" on screen, many people obviously didn't know about the extended end credits with the follow up events underneath like the soldiers going to the next lecture with their girlfriends and the boys playing football. So there was another round of applause when that finished.

The print so sharp, and the screen was so big, that from where I was near the front you could clearly see things like the fly crawling on the horse's bridle when Alison is at the wheelwright's. But you could also see the thread that pulled the mirror in Bob's bedroom at the Hand of Glory

It's certainly one of the fanciest cinemas that I've ever been to.
Correction. There's no doubt about it, definitely the fanciest.

All the great and the good were there, Thelma Schoonmaker, Columba Powell, Lord Dickie Attenborough and the Lady Sheila, Len Smith (Gen. Leslie), David Todd (Commander Todd) and the widow of James Tamsitt (Gen.Terry), John Clark (boy on wall at blacksmiths), Jim Body (clapper loader), Jack Cardiff, Noreen Ackland (editor or assistant editor on almost all the P&P films except this one), Prudence Goring (Marius' widow) and many, many others.

Our side of the screen was well represented my myself, Mark Fuller, Eddie McMillan from Canterbury Christ Church, Prof. Ian Christie, Paul Tritton (author of a great book about the film) and various people from the BFI, Granada, BBC South East and lots of others interested in spreading the word about films like these.

As well as all the "Friends of Thelma" that were sent invitations, there were a certain number of seats made available to the public as they said at the end of the first South East Today segment about the screening. The one that featured our walk. But the BBC South East people said that they got calls from well over 2,000 people and one of the cathedral people said that they got a few hundred as well.

As we arrived there were BBC South East outside broadcast units all over the place, presenters doing pieces to camera and people being interviewed. We all said our hellos to familiar faces and were introduced to various others. Then we moved into the Chapter House for drinks and nibbles.

After about half an hour of that we wended our way into the cathedral where there was the big screen set up in front of the choir screen and various cameras dotted around. We had an initial welcome and prayer giving a blessing on the proceedings then the main presenters of BBC South East introduced the main event. Thelma stood up, not in the pulpit but on a small stage they'd erected to one side of the screen. She thanked us all for coming and gave a bit of an introduction. Then there was a video message from Marty Scorsese saying what the film meant to him and how he wished he could have been with us.

After the film we had some closing comments and thanks to the organisers from the Dean of Canterbury. Then Thelma and Sheila sat on the little platform to answer questions from the audience. Just in case there were any that they couldn't answer, Thelma called on myself, Eddie & Paul to stand just to one side. But as it turned out the ladies managed fine without our help. But as they finished, Thelma did give us a special thanks which was very nice.

There was a bit of a general mingling as most of the audience left. David Todd had mentioned to me how he would really like to be photographed with Len Smith and Lady Sheila, three of the surviving stars of the film together again. I managed to set that up and grabbed a few snaps myself

That's "young Commander Todd" (David Todd) on the left, no longer crying in the back of the boat, then Sheila and then "General Leslie" (Len Smith) on the right. As it happens, Win Tamsitt can be seen peering over David's shoulder. So that's the closest we'll get to the three boys back together with Alison Smith.

There were only a few of us left by this time, so we all repaired to a nearby restaurant for a spot of supper and more chatting and a bit of schmoozing. Catching up with old friends, making new friends and useful contacts. A great time.

I did remember to ask Thelma about the region 1 DVD of A Matter of Life and Death. She said it's still on the cards. There were some technical problems with the digital transfer but it's mainly still waiting for Thelma and Marty to find time to do the commentary. She said don't give up hope on it

But let's not forget that the main point of the evening (or one of them) was to highlight the Cathedral Restoration Fund. As the Dean said in his address to us after the film, "St Augustine founded it. Becket died for it. Chaucer wrote about it. Cromwell shot at it. Hitler bombed it. Time is destroying it. Will you save it?"

BBC South East have "expired" a lot of their web pages about this event and the video clips. They are no longer available. Luckily I saved some of them.

Other P&P trips