Iron Production Returns To Welsh Valleys

Today is a momentous occasion; medieval action flick Ironclad goes on general release in the UK. The movie follows the seven-week long siege on Rochester Castle by King John in 1215, with the king, played by Paul Giamatti, trying to take back power of the castle after signing the Magna Carta.

So why is a film featuring a Hollywood cast and set in Kent a big deal for us here in Wales? Well, it marks the first major release of a production filmed entirely in Wales. More importantly, it’s also the first movie to be produced at Dragon International Film Studios, better known locally as Valleywood.

It seems fitting for this film, titled as such, to be produced in the valleys area, once internationally renowned for it’s iron works – Merthyr Tydfil, a little over 20 miles away and home to the Dowlais Ironworks, was once the largest iron producing town in the world.

Other TV and Movie Productions Filmed in Wales

Since then, Wales has become a hub for television and movie productions with many of the shows produced here becoming popular worldwide, from Doctor Who and it’s offshoot Torchwood to the re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes and the more colloquially appealing Gavin and Stacey, the success of the BBC’s productions in Wales has persuaded them to move cult series Being Human and even the longstanding hospital drama Casualty to their Cardiff studio.

Meanwhile, Wales has been hugely popular as a shooting location for many Hollywood blockbusters. Most recently, Robin Hood and the final two instalments of the Harry Potter franchise have made use of the attractive Pembrokeshire coast, with a wide selection of other Welsh destinations being used as affordable body doubles, of sorts, for any number of places.

Dragon International Film Studios

Capitalising on Wales’ popularity in this area, Dragon Studios was conceived in 2001 and developed by a consortium chaired by screen legend Lord Richard Attenborough. Construction on the complex was started in 2007 with Ironclad being brought to the studios in late 2009. It’s close proximity to Cardiff, along with its countryside setting, affording brilliant outside areas for production, just a stones throw away from the newly constructed modern studios, made it the perfect choice for the producers of Ironclad.

Construction of the Rochester Castle set

Director, Jonathan English, has a keen eye for historical accuracy; a full scale replica of Rochester Castle was erected on set and he was very eager to keep the weaponry and methods used as authentic as possible. Whilst revisionist changes such as the female lead having an increased involvement in the action and aesthetic inclusions, such as greater explosions, being included for obvious reasons; the director sought to maintain a factual grounding, basing characters on the historical figures present at the time and keeping the violent tactics employed during the siege fully intact.

The Stars Of Ironclad

Aneurin Barnard & Jason Flemyng

Joining Paul Giamatti as the film’s antagonist King John, we have James Purefoy as protagonist Marshall, a Templar knight leading the rebels against the king. No stranger to the medieval setting, one of his first forays into Hollywood came with a starring role in the 2001 adventure movie A Knight’s Tale with his lead role in last year’s Solomon Kane also treading similar ground. New York beauty Kate Mara takes the part of the afore mentioned female lead, a role originally intended for Megan Fox. Rounding out the cast, we have a wealth of British talent; from old hands Charles Dance and Brian Cox to younger faces Mackenzie Crook and Jason Flemyng.

Filming in Wales meant that locally based performers were given a chance to shine. Television actor Rhys Parry Jones makes an appearance, whilst youngster Aneurin Barnard makes his cinematic debut as young squire Guy. Of course, as with any film including epic battles, a lot of extras were required, all of whom were sourced locally, causing a buzz around South Wales as people flocked for the chance to feature in the film.

It’s not just the on screen talent that came from Wales. Behind the scenes, production crew, construction work, catering, drivers and accommodation for the cast and crew all helped bring in an estimated £3-4 million to the local economy, not to mention the greater impact that the movie will have on the Welsh image, hopefully bringing many more productions to the studios.

Visit a Real Castle

Whilst the large scale sets are obviously no longer around to be seen, many props created for the movie were sold to local attractions with a full scale, working trebuchet finding a home in Cardiff Castle. Make sure you come and check it out if you visit the city!

Blood and Guts not Your Thing?

Whilst only on a limited release, today also sees Welsh director Marc Evans’ stylish road movie Patagonia hit the screens.

The movie follows the story of two women; one a descendant of Welsh settlers at the Patagonian colony of Y Wladfa looking to retrace her family roots; the other, a city dweller from Cardiff who follows her photographer boyfriend on an assignment to Patagonia in the hopes of saving their ailing relationship.

One of the most interesting things about this film are the unique parallels offered by each story as both women go from familiar surroundings to unknown territory. Showcasing the beautiful landscapes of both Wales and Patagonia, the film also explores the cultural differences of both countries as the characters immerse themselves in the new worlds around them.

Shot on location in South America and the UK, Patagonia is the first movie to explore the romanticised image that Welsh children grow up with of the colony. With stories of settlers integrating with local tribesman, the colony afforded the Welsh a “cowboys and indians” fantasy of their very own, replete with the notion of the Welsh retaining their heritage no matter what.

As you might imagine, for a movie exploring these themes, the filmakers felt it very important to produce the film in the native languages of Welsh and Spanish, throwing in some Polish and, of course, English, for good measure.

This allowed the cast to explore how this would affect their characters with Brothers & Sisters star, Matthew Rhys playing a Welsh speaking Patagonian and affecting his accent in a way only Welsh speakers would pick up on. The rest of the cast includes several recognisable Welsh names and even overlaps with Ironclad with the casting of Rhys Parry Jones as a minor character. The wife of director Marc Evans, Nia Roberts, plays female lead Gwen opposite Welsh TV regular Matthew Gravelle as her partner.

The South American cast includes Marta Lubos as Cerys, perhaps only known outside of her native Argentina for her small part in the Che Guevara biopic The Motorcycle Diaries. She’s joined by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart as her nephew Alejandro. Biscayart caught the eye of the producers for his leading role in the award winning Argentine film Glue and was their first choice for the role.

Rounding out the cast, Welsh pop singer Duffy makes her own cinematic debut as the love interest of Alejandro.

As an independent production primarily in Welsh and Spanish, the producers have struggled to get a wide release for the film. Nevertheless, it has been picked up by the big name cinemas for their Welsh locations and can be seen in the following cinemas as of today:

The producers are urging people wanting to see the film but unable to attend any of the above to ask their local cinemas to show the film and to encourage others to do the same.

Still Want To Know More about Ironclad?

This entry was originally posted to the Visit Wales blog on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 at 5:39pm

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