The cinema-going experience is “a casualty of Covid” says Andy Harries

Image above: Daniel Craig in No Time To Die

No Time To Die release postponed till April 2021

The news that the release of the new James Bond film No Time To Die has been delayed for a second time has come as a blow to the cinema industry. The release, already delayed from April to November 2020 because of the pandemic, has now been put back until April 2021. The announcement follows news that two other major autumn releases, Wonder Woman: 1984 and Marvel Studios’ Black Widow have also been pushed back.

Cinemas rely on these blockbuster films to pay the rent. Wihout the bums on seats, cinemas are closing. Cineworld, owner of Regal and Picturehouse cinemas, confirmed that 5,500 UK staff will lose their jobs after it announced it was temporarily closing all of its cinemas in the UK and US. Odeon have announced that a quarter of their cinemas will close during the week and open only at weekends to save money.

Images above: Andy Harries; Clare Foy and Matt Smith in first series of The Crown

TV and film executive and Chiswick resident Andy Harries talks to The Chiswick Calendar

The prime minister has urged people to “go to the cinema” but that’s “a bit mad” says film and television producer Andy Harries. The chief executive and co-founder of Left Bank Pictures, which has brought us The Crown as well as TV series such as Wallander, Strike Back, Outlander and The Replacement, lives in Chiswick and spoke to The Chiswick Calendar about the state of the TV and film industry.

“It’s hard to imagine that people will want to sit in a cinema with a mask, three feet away from the next person” he said. “I wouldn’t want to”. Going to the cinema is supposed to be fun –  relaxing,  uplifting, not something which makes you anxious.

“The cinema going experience is a casualty of Covid” but, putting an optimistic and positive spin on it, “I think it will bounce back” he told us.

“I think people will want to go out again. It won’t happen until there is instant testing and a vaccine available, but I imagine next summer as a frivolous time when the world goes mad!”

Images above: Olivia Coleman and Emma Corrin in The Crown – Netflix

“We finished The Crown just in time”

Left Bank Pictures finished shooting Season Four of The Crown in March “just in time” said Andy. “We literally finished a week before the coronavirus hit. We were incredibly lucky with the timing”. Olivia Colman returns for a second series as Queen Elizabeth II and Emma Corrin is introduced as Princess Diana in the series which will be shown on Netflix on 15 November.

In what I believe is a Chiswick Calendar exclusive, Andy told us there was one big scene they planned to shoot which they didn’t because of Covid-19.

“One big scene” missed out

“We were going to film when Prince Charles went skiing and his great friend was killed in an avalanche”.

It was March 1988 when Major Hugh Lindsay was buried in a cascade of tons of snow at the resort of Klosters. Prince Charles was with him when the avalanche hit, but escaped unhurt. Princess Diana was not on the mountain, but back at the royal party’s chalet at Davos.

“It was another footnote to the story of Charles and Diana. Diana was there with him, but not skiing. It was going to be filmed in Spain. Then we were all set up to go and film it in Scotland, but in the end we just ran out of road”.

Series Five of The Crown will not now be filmed until next July.

Image above: Nuno Lopes and Laura Haddock in White Lines 

White Lines, Quiz and Sitting in Limbo also made it before Covid-19 stopped filming

In his forty year career, Andy has produced some of the very best Television drama, including The Royle Family, Cold Feet and The Deal, a play about the infamous deal between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that Brown would have his opportunity to be prime minister if he gave Blair a clear run at the leadership in 1994.

His company’s most recent productions, which have all been aired this year, were lucky to complete production before the coronavirus brought everything to a grinding halt.

In White Lines Laura Haddock leads the cast in the story of her quest for the truth when the body of a legendary Manchester DJ is discovered on the Spanish mainland twenty years after his mysterious disappearance from Ibiza. Laura plays his sister, who returns to the beautiful Spanish island to find out what happened. ‘Her investigation leads her through a world of dance clubs, lies and cover-ups’.

Portuguese actor Nuno Lopes was an instant hit in the role of Boxer, a very sexy but nonetheless principled and sensitive (yeah, right) man of violence. White Lines definitely helped the passing of lockdown in our household.

Image above: Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford in Quiz

Quiz is the extraordinary and sensational story of how Charles and Diana Ingram attempted an ‘audacious heist’ on the quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Major Ingram, his wife Diana and an accomplice, Tecwen Whittock, who was sitting in the audience, were accused of cheating their way to a million pounds on what was, in 2001, the most popular game show on earth. The couple stood trial for signalling the correct answers by coughing. Matthew Macfadyen plays Charles and Sian Clifford plays his wife.

Michael Sheen won great praise for his ‘uncanny’ portrayal of quiz master Chris Tarrant in the three part mini-series which aired in April.

Image above: Patrick Robinson in Sitting in Limbo

Sitting In Limbo is the story of Anthony, (played by Patrick Robinson) who after living in the UK since he was eight years old, decides to visit his elderly mother in Jamaica.  He has never held, or needed, a passport before and while filling out the paperwork at the Passport Office he is stunned to discover that there is no record of him as a British Citizen -despite having lived in the country since 1965.

With the onus on him to prove his British citizenship to the Immigration Office, Anthony finds himself stuck in limbo, forced to leave his job and unable to claim benefits. In the early hours of a Sunday morning, Anthony is forcibly removed from his home and detained as an illegal immigrant. The devastation that ensues puts Anthony at the centre of what has now become known as the Windrush scandal.

Sitting In Limbo brought home to many people the breathtaking injustice meted out to those caught up in the Windrush scandal. “An absolutely astonishing watch” said one viewer. “Shocking and heartbreaking” said another. “Really intense but essential viewing”.

If you’re still casting around for things to watch while not going out, there’s three to watch on TV right there.

Image above: Daniel Craig in No Time To Die

Host of dramas put off till next year

Andy has just finished putting off till next year a programme of work scheduled for the autumn. The Fear Index, a thriller for Sky based on the book by Robert Harris, has been postponed till the spring. Another big series based on a book by Louise Penny, which was due to be filmed in Montreal, has also been put off.

Left Bank does a lot of its filming overseas and apart from the increased cost (Covid measures would have added 20% to the budget) filming such big productions is just not practical. There were some 650 people involved in producing The Crown, not all of them travelling or on set, but including the office staff and everyone, and they were often filming in several places at the same time. Challenging at the best of times, now that would be a logistical nightmare.

“We stopped filming immediately when Covid hit” said Andy. In April / May we thought we would be back filming in October, but deep in our hearts I suppose we thought it might continue”.

He has sympathy with the makers of No Time To Die.

“Big productions like that cost $200 – $300 million. It’s a global franchise so they would not have make the decision lightly but studios can’t afford to make films like that and not make their money back”.

It was hoped that action thriller Tenet would bring people flocking back to the cinemas but hasn’t done that well. The Disney film Mulan skipped cinemas and has gone straight to the Disney + channel.

Images above: Mrs America; I Hate Suzie; Tehran

What to watch on TV – as recommended by Andy Harries

So since we’re all likely to be staying in for the foreseeable future, what has Andy seen recently that he recommends for watching in the comfort of our own living rooms?

Mrs America – Available on BBC iplayer. TV series detailing the political movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and the unexpected backlash by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly in the 1970s. Cast includes Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba and Elizabeth Banks.

I Hate Suzie – Sky Atlantic series starring Bille Piper. Suzie Pickles (Piper), has her life upended when she is hacked and pictures of her emerge in an extremely compromising position.

Tehran – Apple TV. Tamar is a Mossad hacker – agent who infiltrates Tehran under a false identity to help destroy Iran’s nuclear reactor

Once Upon a Time in Iraq – Available on BBC iplayer. With unique personal archive from civilians and soldiers from both sides of the conflict, this series takes viewers closer to the realities of war and life under Isis than they have ever been before.

“That was fantastic” said Andy.

Image above: Once Upon a Time in Iraq

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: “Probably a good thing” Chiswick cinema not ready till next year

See also: Independent cinemas “shielded” from the blockbuster effect

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