Widecombe History Group Talks
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Paul gave us an interesting and entertaining talk on the making of the film ‘War Horse’ at various Dartmoor locations.
Paul first listed some of the films and TV programmes that have used Dartmoor over the years, the earliest film being the silent 1929 ‘Cottage on Dartmoor’.
The 1953 film ‘Knights of the Round Table’ starring Robert Taylor and Ava Gardener, used Dartmoor for location shots, and even built a mock castle at Haytor. There are still visitors who ask at the NP visitor centre about the castle at Haytor.
The battle scenes for the film ‘Revolution’ (1985), about the U.S. War of Independence, were filmed at Burrator Reservoir due to its ‘resemblance’ to the New York Hudson River area at that time. Paul secured a job as one of the 500 extras used on this film at £25 a day.
In 2010 Paul came upon a film crew creating mist for a scene in the remake of ‘The Wolfman’. He queried why they would need to create mist on Dartmoor rather than just wait for a typical morning. Apparently real mist plays havoc with the cameras so they needed to use artificial mist! The resulting film shot of a misty wood looked utterly realistic.
TV programmes using Dartmoor have included a 2002 programme featuring Lesley Garret; ‘Fitz’, an Irish comedy filmed in Princetown; the West Country TV programme ‘The Local’, filmed at Burrator; and the TV series ‘Down to Earth’, filmed around Fernworthy Reservoir, renamed ‘Drakeswood’ in the series.
‘Master of the Moor’, a Ruth Rendall story starring Colin Firth and based in Yorkshire, was actually filmed on Dartmoor. Bonehill and Fox Tor were both used, and several members of the History Group were extras.
‘Time Team’ has visited Tottiford Reservoir, and numerous pop videos have used Burrator.
In 2010 rumours were heard of a film about a horse and WW1 being filmed on Dartmoor.
(30,000 horses were rounded up for the war effort with only 2-3 thousand making it back home). The film was given the code name DM and word went out for a couple of hundred extras at £100 a day. The project was top secret and anyone involved in it had to agree to not publicise the filming.
Thus ‘War Horse’ came to Dartmoor. The film’s farmhouse was in reality Ditsworthy Warren. False thatch was placed on the top of the tin roof, fake additions were added, and a fake stable block (with only three walls) was built. Paul showed us a variety of photographs showing the reality and how it looked in the film.
The scenes of the horse sales were filmed at Meavy. However the locals were concerned with the influx of visitors that might ensue following the film’s debut, so the entire filming was canned and reshot at Castle Combe in Dorset instead.
One fascinating fact Paul told, as he showed us a still of the barbed wire in which Joey is entangled, was the fact that this very realistic looking wire was actually sugar work on rather a grand scale.
Other interesting nuggets included:
The scene of Joey jumping a wall : he jumps up at the wall at Burrator, and lands on the other side at Haytor;
The race between Joey and the car was filmed at Coombs Down;
The farm’s geese were borrowed from Two Bridges Hotel;
8 horses were used to portray Joey, with regular application of makeup to ensure they all looked the same. This was required as it was impossible to find one horse that could carry out all the necessary stunts.
To persuade the horse to rear up in the stable, a stick with an attached carrot was dangled above his head!
The reality behind the ploughing scene was amusing. DNPA refused permission to plough a field at Ditsworthy, so tons of earth were imported and dumped on top of the field, plastic boulders added, and then planted up with Elephants Ears (Bergenia). Apparently this ornamental plant looked better on film then the turnips that were first planted. The filming took place on a bright sunny day, but the story required driving rain. Rain machines were used to such good effect that after 5 hours of filming a request for wetsuits went out so the cast could wear them under their costumes to prevent the onset of hypothermia. If you watch the scene very carefully a dumper truck at the cement works can just be seen in the far distance.
Paul pointed out how much wastage there is during filming. As well as the work at Meavy, most of the work carried out at Haytor and around Widecombe wasn't used in the film; and the work of a local photographer, Chris Chapman, was never used either.
After the filming everything was left for several months in case re-filming was necessary, but after that Ditsworthy was reinstated back to how they found it. Now if you go by, you would never know that a major film production had ever been there.
Steven Spielberg was impressed by the beauty of Dartmoor. He had wanted two main stars in the film, the horse Joey and Albert his owner, but he added a third - Dartmoor.
"I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor…
And, with two-and-a-half weeks of extensive coverage of landscapes and skies, I hardly scratched the surface of the visual opportunities that were offered to me."
The information on this page was last modified on March 21 2018 09:56:45.