How Akenfield was made

Akenfield was one of the first British films to be part financed by television (à la FilmFour and Screen 2 today). In 1974 FIDO (Film Industry Defence Organisation) was banning cinema films from being shown on television until four years had elapsed. This meant that LWT, who had the rights to broadcast Akenfield twice, would have had to wait for four years. The producers got around this problem by 'televising' the film's premiere. While the film was being shown at the Paris Pullman cinema in London, LWT were, at the same time, broadcasting the film nationally, leaving the lawyers to decide if it was a cinema film or a television programme.


Later, when producers and directors were campaigning for the proposed new ITV2 to be a 'publishing' channel, like the American Networks, with no production remit, we eventually got Channel Four. Akenfield was the most quoted example of cinema/television partnerships in the campaign.


The cast of the film were the actual people who lived in and around the village of 'Akenfield', and obviously not Equity members. When it was put to the Equity Council (who were 'blacking' the film) by Peggy Ashcroft that Vittorio de Sica could never have made a film like Bicycle Thieves in the UK, Equity agreed, setting a strict set of rules. There was to be no written dialogue, it being invented by the person who spoke it at the time. People could only play 'themselves', Garrow who played Tom was a farm worker and Barbara who played his girlfriend was a teacher. There were a couple of exceptions; Ronald Blythe played the vicar, but he was a lay preacher in the village, and Peter Tuddenham, the distinguished Suffolk actor, read 'the voice of Old Tom' from the book.


The people of the eight villages, used in the film, gave up their weekends to work with the film crew, for nearly a year. It was therefore possible to capture the changing season and Suffolk landscapes throughout the year.


The crew by any standards was tiny, and at one point there were almost as many people, back in London, being paid so as to comply with union minimum crewing agreements. Akenfield was made as a co-operative, the investment from facilities like Samuelson, friends who invested cash and the crew who invested their overtime was treated equally, with no preferential order of repayment. When the ACTT (film union) blacked the film because overtime was not being 'paid', cheques for the overtime were given to the crew, but only one was cashed. Akenfield is owned by a trust administered by the National Film Trustee Company in London.


Because it was never possible to get the cast to repeat lines (and so 'act') various methods were devised to make it easier for the cast to be themselves. So that there would be minimum time spent on set-up and preparation it was decided to only use natural and practical lighting. Many interior scenes were staged by an open door or in front of a window. Ivan Strasburg (the cameraman, who's work on Akenfield was likened to Renoir, Constable and Turner in reviews) worked miracles often using a special behind the lens diffusion technique. So as to reduce the interruptions of magazine changes, the Techniscope process was used to double the running time of a roll of film. Sixty hours of film were shot and eventually edited down to just over the one-and-a-half hours of the final film.


Originally Benjamin Britten was going to score Akenfield, but because of ill health he had to withdraw. The music used on the film was by Michael Tippett.


Akenfield was distributed in the cinema by David Puttnam and Sandy Lieberson under their VPS banner.