An Ungentlemanly Shooting Diary
To celebrate the first time my film, which I wrote and directed in 1992 (me on location in the Falklands above), has become available in widescreen and HD in a magnificent restoration from the original film negative, I am publishing extracts from my production diary, originally printed by The Independent newspaper. Read from below this clip.
In bringing these first 36 hours of the Falklands War to the screen I rejected the usually po-faced British TV approach of fact-based drama An Ungentlemanly Act falls into), and tried instead to begin the film boldly as an Ealing comedy and then descend into tragedy. This, I believe, is something like the way it was.
I was flattered and delighted when Major Mike Norman, who conducted the defence by Royal Marines, agreed to be military advisor on the basis of the screenplay. I have met and talked with almost every major character in the script (both British and Argentine) and researched it to the best of my ability. Nevertheless, I try to tell the story through characters that we care for, whose fear and horror and laughter we understand. There are certain changes of time/place for dramatic convenience, a handful of minor characters get rolled into a slightly smaller handful, renaming of a few supporting characters for legal reasons or by request of those involved. Some people will no doubt lambast me for concentrating on the first, highly embarrassing, chapter of this war. Because we won, people in this country never really questioned how the war could have been allowed to happen and I think some people will be very surprised at seeing this. My purpose in the end is not merely or even primarily political. Hopefully people will conclude from these absurd, confused, and frightening events that history is not the neat arrangement of facts that some books and politicians offer us, that people can blunder into a war without stopping to think what on earth they are doing, and that in the case of a unique and fragile little community like this, force of arms is no solution because the peace and harmony of the Falklands/Malvinas (the Argentine name) were destroyed when the first shot was fired and as long as “fortress Falklands” continues. But even though the minefields can never be cleared, perhaps if people can soften their attitudes after a film like this, a settlement can one day be reached.
An Ungentlemanly Act
Extracts from Stuart Urban’s production diary
3 November 1991 – To Sunningdale, home of the Hunts, at 11.00 a.m. on this last Sunday morning before I leave for the Southern Hemisphere. Fifi the historic red Fiesta car sits on the gravel, not indicating to any casual observer that she had survived sea voyages, gun battles and artillery bombardments. Her colour is a fine complement to His Excellency’s maroon London taxi and official car, which I will see in the flesh down south.
Rex and Mavis kindly agreed to receive me at very short notice before my rushed departure. Rex is short, as I knew, but physically graceful and well-proportioned. Like Dick Baker and his wife, years of colonial service have produced an affable, friendly and engaging couple. I took Mavis at first to be a possible cook, so different did she seem, in apron strings and rolled-up sleeves, from her photographs, as she prepared the Sunday lunch. She strikes me at first as flighty and nervous, though after a few minutes’ talk she actually becomes rather camp in manner and speech (“let’s have a pinkie” at 12.15pm). Rex is as helpful as he can be in his interview but, of course, I must ask myself (and him) whether what he is telling is all that he knows. Did he (as Captain Nick Barker of Endurance maintains) have forewarning of the invasion? If he did, I would have to change the complexion of the film’s opening. Major Norman backs Rex Hunt on this, so I am inclined to discount what Captain Barker says – Mike Norman has no axe to grind.
But I question Rex closely and his disavowals seem genuine. Both Rex and Mavis are very discreet on the matter of the former Royal Marine garrison commander Garry Noott and why he was not asked to resume command as he knew the terrain much better than the incoming garrison’s commander Mike Norman. I think there is something I am not being told but will I ever discover what? Mavis will not admit (indeed denies very hastily) that she told Connie Baker or Major Norman that the Falklands were not worth fighting for that night; “You see, I don’t know if she told you but Connie never cared for the Falklands”. Connie never gave that impression to me. I conclude that Mavis expressed those feelings in a crisis in which they all feared for their lives and that the other two (both reliable witnesses) could not have made this up. The fact is that a lot of people testify to various things about Mavis that night which I intend to show in a toned down form. I sympathise with her greatly and she will engage the audience’s sympathy but inevitably the Hunts will find some things about her portrait which they will not like and I feel apprehensive about this, because they are such pleasant people. But I feel it is my responsibility to show the truth. To Soho via the home of Franc Roddam (executive producer of this film and director of Quadrophenia) and Carina and their four-day old baby Flynn, and on to Union Pictures’ Marshall Street base where casting resumes. That afternoon designer Steve Hardie arrives from North Carolina, tired and jetlagged after his Hellraiser III but ready for the off.
Monday 4 November (extract) – Walking along Regent Street I receive a mysterious call on the mobile from someone who introduces himself as the individual who single-handedly operated the Spanish language desk at GCHQ during the first 86 hours of the crisis. He was monitoring the Argentine military interception, in other words. He would not say how he knew about this film or obtained my unlisted mobile number. He provides us with fascinating information which, among other things, follows the government line on not being able to be certain that invasion was imminent until it was too late. He also confirms Rex Hunt’s insistence that Nick Barker did not inform him of any imminent invasion. There was only one MI6 man in Latin America even though he was stationed in Buenos Aires. Endurance and Nick Barker were the main source of intercepts. But because there had been Argentine naval manoeuvres of this kind in previous years, also utilising the NATO Blue codebook, the Government did not act swiftly enough. Has Rex Hunt or someone in the Government put this “mole” up to calling me? Somebody must have.
5 November (extract – preparing to fly to the Falklands from UK) – At RAF Brize Norton, designer Steve Hardie and I are greeted at the security gate with the question is our flight “duty or indulgence?”. I have to think carefully before replying. “Crab Air” destinations are billed in abbreviated form to confuse the enemy and passengers. Service is brusque in the extreme, making even El Al stewards seem courteous. A hiss from the squaddies greets the tannoy request for “officers and civilians” to go forward first and take their seats on the flight. The cargo aircraft interior is “spartan minimalist”, with vast steel containers and a white rope running down starboard side in case we keel over on a forced landing or whatever. That’s fine if we list to port, but what happens if we go the other way? The “cabin” is alternately freezing and roasting. There is no thermostat, only on/off (polar blizzard vs. fires of hell). I pity the “stewardess”, not a conventionally attractive girl, whose safety demonstration must nevertheless be performed to a sea of leering smiles, shaved heads and ribald comments. Pork scratchings and a penguin bar (destination: Falklands, get it?) for the snack meal, a ham roll for dinner, sausages and bacon for breakfast in a package labelled “SAS partner”. Good thing I’m not kosher or vegetarian. Later, the men find amusement in portable TV gameboys. The stewardess gets her revenge by barking orders and we are all finally commanded by the tannoy to sleep before being plunged into darkness (no such thing as reading lights here).
Wednesday, November 6 (extract) – On arriving in Stanley after some twenty four hours’ travelling, Steve Hardie and I cannot resist racing round to see everything we can before the sun sets. Having written about and researched this place for so long (five years when I count my first screenplay about the war) nothing quite prepares me for the Falklands, which must be one of the strangest places on earth. You step off a plane eight thousand miles down south and here you are not quite in little England but a little English colonial outpost, situated not only physically in the middle of nowhere, but also in some unspecified past. The wind, the startlingly clear air, the tame birds, the penguins on beaches, all tell you that you are well away from any civilised land mass. Rushing round to have a quick look at the outside of Government House, it appears terribly small, so petite as to resemble a doll’s house. It seems to translate on a different scale when photographed or filmed. Here, on the manicured croquet lawn at the front, and in the chicken-run and vegetable garden behind, the war began with a gun battle. Unreal.
Stanley is also very compact, almost like a model village, with its higgledy-piggledy houses with multi-coloured roofs, and in the gardens you see horses and sheep and smoking oil-drums. Almost a “toy-town”, as one of my characters describes it. It has a fairytale air, despite several building monstrosities that have sprung up and ugly satellite dishes. Up to Tumbledown to catch the sunset. It is very unsettling to stand near the spot where Robert Lawrence (hero of the previous BBC drama, Tumbledown), whose wedding I went to, stood when he looked down at Stanley and was shot through the head in the last hour or so of the war. Birds approach us, and all around lies the fragmentary debris of war – sleeping bags, half-buried Argentine positions etc. Standing next to the memorial cross to the Scots Guards who fell here, we can see for nearly fifty miles, well past the airport. The light here is certainly most unusual and for this alone it would be worth making the film here. Steve and I decide that this is really the only place to shoot the movie because it cannot be replicated. But our mission is merely a fact-finding one, with the possibility of a second unit or reduced unit coming here after we finish the main photography in New Zealand. Back to the Upland Goose Hotel (as featured in the film!) for a surprisingly pleasant meal of steak – alas, no Upland Geese available as if you want to eat one it has to be found and executed, which requires a few days’ notice.
Thursday 7 November – At breakfast I saw a man riding to work on his horse, sitting on the traditional kelper’s fleece saddle. Our American waitress who is also the owner-publisher of a local paper informs us that he is called Dennis Middleton and pastures his transport outside his workplace during the day. Got to have him in the title sequence, which presents key images of Stanley. First stop is the kitsch chalet that the Argentines built for Vice-comodoro Gilobert, boss of the military airline LADE and quite possibly a master spy, in Falklands terms. His former home is now the Falklands Museum, run by John Smith. We have brought him a fish tank from the UK for his whale embryo (a dead one). In return he gives us a lot of co-operation and assistance. Like other islanders, he rightly boggles at the prospect of our attempting to recreate the Falklands elsewhere. A depressing call to London reveals that the New Zealand budget is looking way over and the project is now threatened, despite the tax shelter monies available there. Bollocks. There are so many people and places to see in our 48 hours on the island that we are inevitably late for every single appointment, charging about on foot or in the Land Rover of our good-humoured guide, Tony Smith, the relentless wind buffeting at all times.
One surprising and depressing thing about the islanders is their casual racism towards Latinos, calling the Argentines “wogs” and so on – even the most cultured and reasonable of them frequently emit such epithets. I feel personally insulted for, as I have said, although I count myself British I have relatives in Buenos Aires, have lived in Venezuela and still have dual nationality. But then this ambiguity of feeling is why I set about making a film on this war in the first place. I meet Pat Peck, one of the FIDF men lined up outside the Bakers’ house garden wall in the mock execution scene that we will have towards the end of the film. They thought the Argentines were preparing to fire but it was just posing for the cameras. I looked at the wall, and saw the still extant bullet hole in the adjoining house, caused by an Argentine heavy machine-gun round which narrowly missed Tony Hunt during the invasion. So bizarre, the wall where men thought they were to be shot and the quaint house with its symbolic bullet hole. It would be so wonderful to recreate these extraordinary scenes where they took place. After a confusing amount of bureaucracy (Government House had lost all trace of our visit and appointment) we finally gain entry to the minuscule seat of government. A brief chat with the Governor is followed by an excellent tour conducted by chauffeur majordomo, Don Bonner, who is one of the cast of our film. He still drives the maroon taxi on certain occasions but more often the conventional Range Rover, (registration: GH1). We come across Roger Huxley, a short, Ealingesque Foreign Office man who keeps turning books over and denying us permission to photograph even the most innocuous secretary’s desk for fear of unmasking some major secret of state. Don Bonner mutters oaths and mouths the letters “FO” behind Mr Huxley’s back. Clearly a clash of parallel command structures as Don runs the house and Roger the diplomatic side.
Roger tells Don to “stop bullshitting” about where various bullets came through but the evidence is clear enough throughout the house, with many patched up lumps in the wall and even the odd piece of antique furniture with a part missing. In the pantry the floor is still cratered from a high explosive grenade that came through, fortunately not killing any of the defenders. I did not even know a grenade had penetrated the house so I must include this incident. Then to the chicken and sheep run where the first lethal shots of the war were fired. The mind can scarcely comprehend how Captain Giachino and his courageous commandos simply strolled right up to the kitchen door intending to seize the Governor before they were cut down amidst chickens, geese and sheep. Giachino is a national hero with streets named after him in Buenos Aires, yet here was the spot he met his end in such a bizarre, sordid and unnecessary manner. Unnecessary, because he bled to death over a difference of language, a grenade clutched in his hand. The Marines would have rescued him, indeed tried to, but always thought he was menacing them (he was pleading to be disarmed and given medical assistance).
(Postscript: please refer above to above postscript concerning Diego Quiroga’s observations on this incident in August 2008)
I study the small potato shed behind which one of the wounded Argentines hid, including Diego Quiroga, and as per written testimony there are several low bullet holes which must have narrowly missed the wounded’s head.
In the same shed Argentine bodies were found at the end of the war. The chicken and sheep milling around are not descendants of the 1982 generation because they were eaten by the hungry defenders in the last days of the war. Next the London taxi in its garage, whose walls are also pitted with many bullet holes. Miraculously, the official car and its female sidekick, Fifi the Fiesta, survived the war intact and were liberated by the Paras on 14 June. We decide to ask the Governor straight out if he can assist us in the making of the film and to our surprise Mr. Fullerton shows himself to be completely for it, saying that “this is the place to make the film”, not New Zealand. He says he has complete authority (and indeed his authority here is second only to the Queen’s) but I cannot believe he would not have to refer his decision back to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, in which case we can kiss it goodbye. There is a definite embargo emanating from Whitehall or Downing Street on any co-operation being offered to this film, for example in the loan of men or materiel for filming purposes. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to come here, if we could overcome the logistic and transport difficulties? To make a film with full scale action sequences thousands of miles from any film facilities or industry (except Argentina’s of course – but no air travel is allowed to/from the Argies).
After dinner we meet Jim Fairfield, the ex-Royal Marine who left his two infant children and his wife to fight that night at GH, fully expecting to die. When it came to the time to surrender, Jim told the Governor to “fuck off”. I struggle to understand the mentality of these “Royals” as they call themselves. But then Jim at least was fighting for his family and home, whereas others who fought were just off the boat. Jim, like most of our interviewees, remains cagey on who actually shot Giachino. Well, I’ve got to show someone doing it and he seems the right sort of warlike guy.
Friday 8 November – The bellicose attitude of the authorities ten years after the war means that not only is an inordinate amount of jet fuel wasted on Phantom escorts for flights across the exclusion zone, but travellers heading to Argentina (a forbidden air travel destination some four hundred miles away) have to endure the absurdity of a three-legged, thirty-six hour journey. It starts with a five-hour flight over the South Atlantic and Tierra del Fuego in a tiny toilet-less aircraft, staying over in Punta Arenas (Chile) whose only redeeming feature is that it is the second most southerly town in the world, then up a couple of thousand “Ks” to Santiago, change planes for the second time, and finally the one and a half hour hop across the Andes to Buenos Aires.
Sunday 10 November – On landing, my Falklands visa is carefully bordered (but not abused or obliterated) by an Argentine entry stamp. Zooming along the freeway in one of the city’s ubiquitous 1990s-built Ford Falcons with retro styling, we pass the first of many signs proclaiming the “Malvinas were, are and will be Argentine”.
Buenos Aires is a delight at 1.30 a.m. when we arrive, the streets and cafés throbbing with life and excitement and vitality. A vibrant metropolis, surely one of the unacknowledged great capitals of the world. Yet this exciting mass of people joined its dictator leaders in the escapade of the Malvinas... After a few hours’ sleep I make contact with Admiral Busser and Brigadier (as he now is) Gilobert aka the Master Spy of the Malvinas. Busser, who insists on being called “Doctor” rather than “Contraalmirante”, checks up that I am who I am by ringing me back at the Hotel Claridge. The hotel name is symbolic of the Argentine’s love-hate relationship with things British, like the red letterboxes and Victorian railway stations. It is wonderful and exciting to discover that these two key Argentine characters of the script, about whom I have heard and written so much, correspond with my visions of them in the first draft. Busser is the utterly civil caballero I expected, but his apartment is festooned with guns, militaria and photographic blow-ups of the “recovery of the Malvinas” which he commanded.
The numerous Catholic images around the place remind me of the role that religion has played in Hispanic military oligarchies – forget the military-industrial complex, this is the military-holy alliance. Busser shows me photographs of the troops being blessed before Operation Rosary (gotta stage that scene!), and even the secret plans and logs. His recall is pretty sharp, though, like with Rex Hunt, it is presumably a well-rehearsed tale. Interestingly, he reveals that it was he who slapped the face of the Argentine NCO who was humiliating the Royal Marines and, moreover, he personally accosted and disarmed one of the enraged commandos intending to massacre the Marines after the death of their leader Captain Giachino. What is more, he tells me that a male servant (by his description it can only be Don Bonner) came out wielding a shotgun at the flag-raising and eagle-eyed Busser spotted him before he could do any damage. Busser’s personal snaps reveal the “spy” Gilobert in a peaked airforce dress cap (his parka obscured whether he had the whole dress tunic etc. or not) which would seem to confirm he had some foreknowledge of the invasion because otherwise why would he have packed it for a short trip in which he no longer represented Argentina? Busser also revealed (without my asking) that he had in fact shaken Rex’s hand at the end of the surrender by asking “and now I hope you will do me the honour”, something which Rex denies. But since Busser also volunteered the very embarrassing information about their flag coming loose in a gust of wind I am inclined to believe Busser on this one (note: his rather fantastic allegation about Don Bonner was also later confirmed to me by Don on the telephone). Busser entrusts me with a photocopy of a book that will prove invaluable: eyewitness accounts by the officers and men who took part in the operation, including descriptions of Giachino dying in the chicken-run, of Norman calling to him, and the whole grenade business. One (very) sinister note: I asked Busser whether he was frightened at coming under direct fire, presuming it was his first time. He answered “no, because I was in the war against the subversives”. After spending two very stimulating hours, I take my leave asking whether Gilobert had been specially sent back as an undercover man for the invasion. Busser shrugs and says “you'll have to ask him that”. A very ambiguous answer. And so to the Giloberts (Hector and wife Teresa), quite the most charming people of all the characters whom I have met on the “real” cast list. A good-looking Latin couple, sportively dressed and displaying genuine warmth (rather than Busser’s punctilious civility) they offer tea, biscuits and wonderful reminiscences about the Bakers, the Hunts (especially Mavis), and a truly humanitarian view of the whole conflict. But when presented with the evidence of his spying role Gilobert just smiles and shrugs it off convincingly, on a personal level. His argument is quite sophisticated, in that he suggests perhaps the airforce high command used him as a dupe, knowing full well what was going to happen when they sent him in. He suggests they just wanted a reliable bloke on the ground. Anyway, Gilobert maintains he took no uniform or items of uniform with him. No doubt he would explain away the cap (if I confront him with my having seen Busser's snap) by saying someone gave it to him to help him be identified, since he narrowly avoided being shot during and after the surrender procedures. I must try and get to the bottom of the Gaffoglio/Gilobert uniform puzzle. (Note: in fact I never was able to do so and, in the film, I made the reasonable assumption that Gilobert had a full uniform on under the parka). I had never realised that Gilobert remained in Stanley to the bitter end and was taken prisoner. An amusing last remark from Gilobert, pointedly after I had put the cassette recorder away, concerns the moment when he took his leave of Mavis. She was highly emotional, he says, and threw her arms around him tearfully! The Giloberts, like Busser, send regards to the Hunts and the Bakers which I shall duly transmit, along with Busser’s regards to counterparts Norman and Noott. The amazing thing is how lacking in animosity the Argentines are about it all. I encounter far less jingoism and petty feeling in Buenos Aires than in Stanley. I round the evening off by meeting my Argentine relatives who insist on taking me for yet another meaty B.A. meal before I say goodbye.
Monday, 2 December – (After travelling on to New Zealand to prepare the main shoot of the film, I was pulled out with Steve Hardie when co-financing through Portman Entertainment collapsed and the budget escalated. A frantic week of meetings on the way back via Los Angeles had not produced rescue finance. The production seems doomed until ...). There are now two possibilities: firstly that the BBC picks up the entire cost of the film and makes it with its own crew and resources; secondly that Portman bounce back with their partner Jorge Estrada in a co-production to be made in Argentina. Bradley Adams (producer) has flown to Madrid to meet Jorge who is keen and positive. He knows the script inside out, knows Lieutenant Quiroga and Admiral Busser very well and can secure military co operation for the movie! The big problem would be recreating Stanley and bringing down the British cast. I am told Patagonia looks similar to Falklands terrain but it is a long way down south (opposite the Falklands, in fact). The fact is that we have not found anywhere convincing or feasible on the British Isles to shoot so many exteriors in winter (if we went down the BBC route) and the choice will be between Argentina and the Falklands if Governor Fullerton throws in his full support.
Friday 13 (!) December – Hit another major snag because BBC 2 Controller Alan Yentob feels he must consult with higher powers (John Birt, Director General of the BBC, I believe) about the controversial implications of co-producing this film with Argentina. Their offer is now a substantial one but the problem is that brokers Portman are linking the deal with selling one of their current productions to the BBC at an inflated price and Alan will not horse-trade. The situation goes through another radical change in the afternoon when we go for a crisis meeting to BBC Drama Serials boss Michael Wearing’s office. This is the first time I meet the man under whose auspices (together with Alan) the film has moved forward. He is in favour of re-enacting history where it happened (i.e. the Falklands) and prefers the risk of backing the whole film and reaping all the profits (should there be any). We will shoot on Super 16 (widescreen) and the battle scenes on 35mm which still gives a fighting chance of cinema release outside this country. He is energetically working for the film, and we all know that the Falklands would be creatively the most authentic and secure option with a British cast and crew. So, from having my bags packed and ready for four months in Buenos Aires I might now be in England next week and the Falklands soon after (if we can finance the BBC Falklands route ) or, should it all go up in smoke, in Zambia with my family and in-laws for a commiserating holiday. But can the BBC, having gone up from £400,000 to £750,000, really commit the entire cost of £1.4 million!?
Wednesday 21 January – (Here I was back in the Falklands again doing the recce and titles shoot with a skeleton crew. The production was now 90% certain, to be made in the Falklands, Ealing Studios and a few locations in the UK – e.g. HMS Belfast). Up at six each morning to make the best use of daylight. Nice to meet Don Bonner again and other favourites. Governor Fullerton is as relaxed, helpful and positive as ever, a source of eternal surprise when dealing with alumni of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. We swallowed before explaining how we wanted to blow up windows, parts of the lawn, have Marines trample the flower beds etc. – a whole litany of destruction which we would of course rectify at the end of the day... Mr Fullerton took it brilliantly. The MOD are not keen to allow any co-operation because the F.O. seemed to have leaned on them by reason of a private understanding with Buenos Aires that we would not be dwelling on the tenth anniversary of the British victory. All the more surprising, then, that the Governor should be so happy to assist us, even using his influence to give us the reduced airfares available to service personnel and islanders By an extraordinary coincidence the lady of the house, Mrs Fullerton, is the namesake of “Nanny” Fullerton, the servant who is a character in our script! Must be very awkward since there seems to be a degree of upstairs/downstairs tension; one of the female staff pulls a face when Mrs “Governor” Fullerton rings impatiently for service on the old 1930s push-bell from the dining room. We film people are in the kitchen enjoying tea and coffee out of E.R. mugs. Fortunately for us we completed measuring and photographing in the dining room just before the Governor’s wife entered for her boiled egg and toast awaiting her on the table. Perhaps we had kept her from her breakfast and thereby upset her!
Tuesday 3 March – (The first week of shooting at Ealing studios is complete and the main unit flies down to the Falklands). Here we are merrily trooping down to make the first movie in the Falklands (and almost certainly the last!). Fortunately the aircraft is not a cargo plane like the one Steve Hardie and I flew on first but RAF catering is down to its usual standard and – typically “Crab Air” – the only hot meal is served some seventeen hours into the eighteen hour flight. Highlight of the journey is spotting none other than Air-Vice Marshall Peter Beer, who is in charge of British Forces Falkland Islands and has turned down our requests for military co-operation. Brad seizes his chance as the Air-Vice Marshall leaves his VIP seat and queues for the toilet, casually striking up a conversation about who we are and what we are doing. We have been told (and it could be hearsay) that Beer is not pleased that the Governor virtually invited us to the islands. In any case, he is perfectly pleasant to Brad, but does not volunteer his name or identity (no doubt for reasons of security). Brad, ever the diplomat, tactfully does not reveal that he knows perfectly well whom he is talking to – this would embarrass the Air-Vice Marshall. He merely outlines our case in a roundabout way, and the Air Vice-Marshall wished us the best of luck on the islands, saying the project sounded most interesting. (Note: Brad never succeeded in obtaining the face-to-face official meeting with Peter Beer at which he hoped to reveal himself as the man on the plane, and we understand a written directive was issued preventing personnel working on our production even unofficially during leave – the subject of quite a few national press articles). We meet Mike Norman and the dozen or so members of the unit who have already been out here for some days preparing. Tonight is Mike’s last night after thirty years in the corps of Marines and we lay on some champagne as a surprise. He is very touched at what must be a difficult time for him without his mates and family, back after ten years in the place he nearly died for.
Thursday 5 March – (extract). Filming the opening Stanley street scene outside a Mrs. Betty Ford’s house (we also have on the film’s payroll A.Nutter and Ron Buckett) we ignite the flame of controversy that will grow to Kuwaiti oil-fire proportions by the end of the shoot. We had noticed in a journalistic reference that signs were put out for the butcher asking for a “Quarter Shepe Please”. I thought it was either a local spelling or a mis-spelling. Either way I thought we should replicate it because I like amusing signs. It was in the background and will scarcely be visible in the film. We also had the Mrs. Mozeley character in the street walking a sheep. It so happens that the woman who played her (Anne Reid, whose son was killed on the Galahad and who decided to settle near his grave) genuinely takes her pet sheep for walks and again this was not something invented but can be found in videos of Stanley life. Anyway, people watch us shooting a scene over and over again and although these are only two out of some 800 images in the film, conclusions are quickly reached. (The Falklanders believe from now on that the film portrays them as complete primitives. Betty Ford, who consented to the sign adorning her gate, was described by radio-station manager Pat Watts a couple of days later as being distraught and having taken to a farm in the hills in order to get over our insult.) A Japanese TV crew who have been doing an item on the Falklands have been stranded by the (typical) non-arrival of the RAF Tristar and so decide to film us. They recount what wonderful co-operation they received from the Mount Pleasant military authorities including free air-to-air filming facilities aboard helicopters and jets. We are indignant at the way in which they are offered such assistance and we cannot even hire squaddies on their days off. But Air-Vice Marshall Beer is not obliged towards us of course, and is probably 2only obeying orders”. Tonight is our first action sequence with the gun battle, for beginning, for Government House: three cameras, explosions, pretty well all the local FIDF men who can turn out to re-enact the battle. The real Jim Fairfield, an ex-Marine who is featured in the film and, when he volunteers to fight with his former unit, he comes to greet us. It is the first time that he has actually returned to the site of the battle. He does not wish to take part in its re-enactment, quite understandably, and I am surprised that as many people who were there do turn up to take part. All goes very well, with the occasional difficulty of trying to yell “cease fire” or “cut” because the assistant director does
not believe in megaphones. You begin to understand how ceasefires break down so often, once everyone is wired up and deafened. We will be relying heavily on the FIDF for their invaluable co-operation; they are not happy with some aspects of their depiction within the film so I am going to take on board what they say and make changes if necessary to the script. Something that surprises me greatly is that very few, if any residents, turn up to watch. Although it is past midnight by the time we get down to action this is a film about their history and yet they seem totally ambivalent. This sort of sequence attracts crowds in the UK. But the islanders are on the other hand most sensitive and quick to take offence. I portray them with sympathy as living in a forgotten time, a world of their own unfettered by the conventions we take for granted. Yes, it is comic at times but then every group portrayed in this film comes in periodically for comic treatment. If they call the script condescending then they have misunderstood it. TV companies do not spend circa 1.4million to make fun of the Falkland islanders.
Friday 6 March – The day begins late for Brad whose Land Rover gets bogged down when he goes running around Gypsy Cove in an attempt to see penguins. He fails to find the birds and on his return finds his vehicle half submerged in quicksand. His jog turns into a half-marathon as he reaches the airfield to enlist the help of Gerald Cheek (an FIDF officer who plays himself in the film) and the fire crew who rescue the vehicle amidst much leg-pulling. Our work continues at a tough and furious pace; up to eight minutes a day including action/effects stuff (for which even in TV you do not reckon on shooting more than three minutes a day). We have to contend with ferocious weather, lack of the most basic local amenities a film crew needs – for example, no white paint for a police car, no letters for an “RN” number plate, etc. Even no nails at one point. Perfect sultry, windy weather when we want it today; normally in film-making you get the opposite of what you want. Pat Watts, who has hitherto been most helpful to us, appears to be cranking the village pump on the radio. There are reports that we shot a scene of Dennis Middleton and his horse racing through town in which he yells “The Argies are coming!” and that we had young Falklands lasses frolicking naked on a beach with sheep. Wow. Still, the sight of our extras in Argie uniform brought tears to the eyes of one old lady so we must try and remember the trauma of this community, which accounts for their sensitivity.
Sunday 8 March – One of the hardest filming days I have experienced in eleven years of directing. We are using sixty non-professional extras, working in two languages (some of the people playing Argentines are Peruvian fishermen dragged off squid jiggers), with a minimal crew. The Argentine flag has to get ripped off by the wind at exactly the right moment in the flag-raising during which they are singing. The extras have to perform military drill, sing a national anthem they learned minutes before, and react to commands they cannot hear because I have no megaphone and am the only one who speaks Spanish. Plus we have most of the principal cast in the scene and certain principals get very upset at being made to wait; indeed one principal actor throws a very loud tantrum (though he later apologized). Although we fall two scenes behind, we get some excellent material and a wonderful tracking scene when we assemble the cheering “mass” of Argentine troops on the seafront, chanting “Ar-gen-tina” as Admiral Busser passes. The scene is scalp-tingling, because we have wonderful emotion in the foreground action, a great spirit among the extras and pretty well every piece of surviving Argentine equipment in it (even though an armoured car is being pushed on a steel bar to make it seem mobile). The emotional counterpoint in the foreground is that despite defeat, Dick Baker in the white flag party is almost weeping with relief at the thought of seeing his children again. Wind and rain tonight for the second phase of the battle. Mike Norman watches Bob Peck relive the moment that he took cover behind one of Government House’s ancient cannons, ducking fire and quaking uncontrollably with fear before getting a grip on himself. (He is to tell me later that this was the most difficult moment for him of the shoot).
Monday 9 March – Another flag-raising day, but this time it is the British flag that is going up for the film’s epilogue (the retaking of Stanley). Although it is much easier to recruit islanders to play Paras and Marines, today is a working day and many of the people playing Argentines have now left. So we send drivers round in a desperate trawl of the harbour and recruit the crew of a Chilean squid jigger and a Whitbread round-the-world yacht – quite a social mix but unlike the islanders the dark ones don’t mind playing Argies (though some of the local Chilean gastarbeitern have taken a lot of stick for playing the enemy). By getting our Argie P.O.W.s to walk round the camera in a circle they look sufficient in number. We are so pressed for time that I have to run two cameras simultaneously throughout – one of them being the apparent “news crew” visible in shot. Although that was a severe compromise, we had the wintry weather we wanted which was perfect. Poor Peter Chapman, the cameraman, kept worrying about image quality (rain on the lens, wobbly shots etc.) but I’ll need it to look awful to match into the rest of the news footage we are using for the nightmare-style end sequence. The rest of the film is shot in a very classical style with no handheld whatsoever, part of the 1950s feel that I am going for (since Stanley in the eighties resembled the fifties elsewhere). In the West Store we had the real Don Bonner play a character greeting his screen alter ego on a shopping trip with his mistress. During the unusually calm evening we actually had spectators – two children who watched us shooting some action scenes for a while before trundling off. A crew member asked them if they were bored already but they replied “no, our mum told us to keep an eye out and report back on what we saw”. I think the locals view us with suspicion.
Tuesday 10 March – An early morning meeting is held with the FIDF to accommodate their views on how they should be portrayed. Their written statement on why they did not actually engage the enemy that night is unsigned. Major Norman remains sceptical and unfortunately the man who holds all the answers is now dead (Major Phil Summers of the FIDF). He is alleged to have ordered blanks to be issued on account of cost. I am not including this simply because I do not wish to insult the FIDF. Today it is a very efficient force but in those days even the current commander (Phil’s son Brian) admits it was a “bit of a Dad’s Army force” and that is, in a lesser degree, how I am going to show it. We arrive at a compromise because there seems to have been some breakdown in their chain of command from the Governor which would explain why they were not defending the ridge as requested by Major Norman (the ridge from which the handful of Argentine commandos kept Government House’s defenders pinned down until the armoured column encircled them). For our beach scenes today the weather is simply appalling, which is what we wanted; horizontal rain, sixty-knot winds that often blow the boom swinger and other people over. My hat flew straight into the sea, and as I charged across the lovely sand to get it I heard fragmentary yells through the gale. They were reminding me (too late!) that this beach was not proven to be mine-free and the Bomb Disposal team who had agreed to make it safe for us had not done so. Surely this can have nothing to do with the Air-Vice Marshal’s directive to his forces not to assist us in any way. Mines sometimes get washed up on the tide. Still, the risks were probably minimal as locals seem to use the beach without exploding. We continue into a night of equally relentless gales and rain. I pity the three actors who prepared for months to film these scenes, who had modelled performances in the quiet rehearsal rooms of Acton, only to face a tempest from Greek mythology. Not a single complaint from them or the crew, I have to say. Most would have given up and gone home. Morale boost of the evening was when I laid hands on an image intensifier from the FIDF and discovered the normally ever-active producer Brad, fast asleep in a warm dry Land Rover. They all queued up for a good laugh but in fact this was most unlike Brad. (He never lived it down). He soon got woken by the gunfire that ensued, when we used the night-scope to direct live tracer bullets out to sea, taking care there were no passing ships and avoiding a cormorant’s nest that was near the line of fire. We will put the reverse (i.e .incoming) tracer fire on with optical special effects.
Wednesday 11 March – We film the touching and amusing scene where islanders sing “Auld Lang Syne” as the Governor drives off to exile in his maroon taxi. Our cameraman Peter gets quite overwhelmed and tears come to his eyes. Next stop is the Bakers’ house, where we stage the mock execution of the FIDF men which the Argentines put on for some photographers. Mavis Hunt looked down from the window and genuinely thought they were going to be shot, as did two of the people against the wall both on the actual day and, today, Gerald Cheek and Marvin Clark. A bizarre feeling doing this, because we ourselves have to go through the various stages – fear, confusion, and finally laughter as the “joke” manifests itself. Marvin Clark joins us later tonight on the Government House ridge playing one of the Argentines. Horizontal rain in torrents is interspersed with horizontal hail. But somehow, playing one of the Argentines myself, I get really into the whole thing and am able to ignore being soaked. Firing down over those rocks (even if they are blanks), calling on the Governor to surrender (even if he’s away on holiday at the moment), one nevertheless has some inkling of what it must have been like. The dreadful weather helps, and the heavy radio on my back. Indeed, I get so stuck into the spirit of things that when we dive for cover in one take I hit the rocks with such force that I actually crushed the metal radio in several places! A great cheer goes up from the crew at my antics. Less heroically, I slip on a rock some time later and an accidental shot from my sub-machinegun nearly hits Peter Chapman in the face. This could have been fatal. Although I knew full well that the gun was not pointing at him, it was nevertheless a deeply unsettling moment, particularly as Peter dropped to the floor yelling with shock. This probably would not have happened if I had done some of the military training which I inflicted on cast members but in the crazed run-up to filming there had not been the time At the end of this sodden night of action my feet were squelching in my boots, I was covered in aches, cuts and bruises and was limping (like several others who followed me) from landing heavily with my knee on a particularly sharp rock. And I had nearly shot my cameraman. But I felt fantastic; it is hard to describe the feeling in not only directing but acting out these events behind the bullet-scarred rocks the Argentines fired from (indeed I had to forget directing and concentrate on delivering Spanish in an Argentine accent). Even odder for Marvin Clark who, though playing an Argentine commando tonight, was an FIDF man on the actual night, pinned down by fire from these very rocks! But we have completed one of our most challenging days in the most dreadful weather. Just tomorrow to go.
Thursday 12 March – Gerald Cheek calls us from the airfield in the morning to say that a Hercules will be taking off shortly. They normally swoop low over Stanley every day but since we arrived they have been conspicuously absent and the airbase knows we want some swooping low-level passes for the scene where the Argentine Air Force buzzes the Marines. Two problems follow: firstly Peter Chapman heads off with his camera to Mount Pleasant (the wrong airport) 45 miles away; secondly the Hercules inexplicably fails to take off soon after Mount Pleasant is informed that the BBC are waiting to film it. We failed on this occasion but we did get a marvellous pass of two Chinook helicopters which we very much wanted, while they were practising for Mount Pleasant open day. We begin with a scene on the football field near Government House where Marvin Clark and others were pinned down at various times. Because of the weather and scheduling problems we have had to borrow the goalposts several times from up the hill. For although this has recently been replanted with grass it is not actually in use and we have had to keep “moving the goalposts” and releasing them for match kick-offs when we failed to get to the location in time. The real Major Mike Norman makes a wonderful FIDF man in his acting debut, together with excellent first timer Gary Clement, who also fought in the war as a Marine. Mike has come through with flying colours, displaying commitment, an immediate and profound understanding of the production process, and boundless energy during the difficult night schedules. Our worst day in terms of lack of extras: having milked two hundred of the locals to appear (that’s a quarter of the Stanley population) the novelty value is wearing off and rumours continue to abound about the script being unfavourable to the islanders. We drag some people off an Antarctic survey boat to play Marines only to find (just before we begin the scene with them) that their vessel is about to leave. After a certain amount of begging we discover that it is only their meal-break they will be missing and the problem is resolved by our feeding them later. But “Argentines” remain thin on the ground (I should explain that we could not cast any Argentine actors as I had wanted to because their nationals are banned from the islands. As enlightened as the Arabs’ policy towards Israelis). Pretty well all the crew are dressed up as Argies today including the girls. The sight of the Argentine flag on the pole finally made the good citizens’ patience snap even though we filming it being ripped off. We were ordered to take it down by the Council after complaints . We complied, despite the fact that we were entitled to insist on our agreement with the Governor. To add to my woes, the FIDF, having promised to supply the old men who volunteered to fight that night but got turned away, present only a phalanx of very warlike young men. A trawl of pubs fails when the old boys refuse to play ball. And our attempt to arm the FIDF with the kind of primitive weapons which we know some of them had is rebuffed; they claim we are ridiculing them yet they themselves told us how they lost half of their automatic weapons or magazines to the Marines that night. When designer Steve Hardie produces a flintlock rifle he is told that these do not even exist on the islands but he obtained it down the road. We put it away. They were at pains to show how disadvantaged they were that night but are worried about being portrayed as a rabble. We show them neither in a cowardly nor a heroic light but certainly apportion no blame to civilians faced with a massive surprise attack supported by armour and aircraft. Indeed, Major Summers says that the re-enactment of the telephone call, when his late father told Rex Hunt that their HQ was surrounded, touched him and was very much like he imagines it must have been. The FIDF have been very good to us. I have moderated their image in return, for the Marines are very scathing about their performance that night. Anyway, this night we complete our Falklands shoot in the face of so many difficulties. Only one short exterior scene lost which can easily be recreated in the UK.
Friday 13 March – This is our pack-up day and we venture out to Mount Pleasant to try and sneak some over-flights of aircraft from beyond the perimeter fence but unfortunately their Open Day (for which pilots have trained for months) is cancelled because of the poor weather. Meanwhile Steve and the design team frantically clean up the destruction at Government House, restoring it to the status quo ante bellum. Fortunately the Governor and his wife are slightly late back from holidaying in Chile on the same little Otter that I flew on. We are actually towing the last Argentine prop (an armoured car) out of the back drive as Mr. and Mrs. Fullerton are driven by Don up the front drive in their official car, GH1. (We learn later how Mrs. Fullerton was very distressed at the sight of her flower beds, which of course cannot be restored until next season). Returning to the penguins at Gypsy Cove, we try to achieve the wide shot where a penguin is mistaken for an Argentine in the dark. It fails so we resort to Brad’s expedient of me dressing in black-peaked cap, white scarf and black clothes waddling down the tussac grass to the beach, deliberately underexposed. – (Note: the shot worked perfectly well in rushes when several people did not even realise it was a trick until the exposure opened up and the penguin metamorphosized into a director chortling with laughter. It is sad to be leaving the Falklands, which many of us have come to feel very attached to. It is such a unique place and yet I can’t imagine I will ever come back here again. Indeed if peace – true peace – ever breaks out then Mount Pleasant, this expensive airbase in the middle of nowhere, will soon get overgrown with weeds and the islands will revert to their previous state of virtual isolation. But the minefields will probably remain unclearable for ever.
Friday 20 March – A day of antics and melodrama. Fortunately all’s well that ends well, for this is a production with luck on its side so far. Somehow the MOD directive that we should not be given assistance has failed to reach every unit in the country and we are “somewhere in the UK” at a base whose commander is perfectly willing to assist us. Thank God that these people and the (nameless) regiment that lent us a tank and crew yesterday are willing to help. Meanwhile one of our camera crew acted on a tip-off that some Hercules aircraft would be taking off from a nearby base (Major Mike Norman had been drinking in the hotel with a Yank air crew who just happened to be flying a Herc back to the States). We get one great low-level pass before the cameraman is arrested by the Military Police. But because he is perfectly within his rights, being on public land, they have to let him go. To boost the look of the film, we have hired a former Soviet amphibious Armoured Personnel Carrier at great expense, to come up tonight out of some water which represents the South Atlantic. Unfortunately, the men operating this vehicle leave a valve open and it promptly gets flooded, sinking right in front of the beach which we are using as our location. The novice tank crew are lucky to have got out but will have a lot of explaining to do to the collector who recently acquired and imported this 21-foot beast from Czechoslovakia. Thank God we have already filmed the scenes with it shooting up the replica of Government House’s yard yesterday afternoon, since the engine compartment is now flooded. If we cannot shift it then not only do we lose the APC from the story but we cannot film at all because we need the beach clear for scenes before the main Argentine landing – the APC’s side is still poking bizarrely up above the surface. But God (and the commander of this military unit) is on our side and an engineering tank is sent to the rescue, towing the stricken behemoth from its watery grave and even positioning it nicely for the later scene to make it look as if it has come out onto the beach under its own steam. Thousands of gallons of water pour out from the vehicle for half an hour. The army boys lend their own APC to come charging out of “the sea” and hey presto, our armoured vehicle scene has suddenly got double the numbers. Military boats churn up the water to make it as choppy as the South Atlantic just before each take. An exceedingly heavy day but we got, in the end, more than we could have planned or budgeted for!
Wednesday 1 April – Ten years to the day from the start of our film’s story. And what could be more fitting than a visit to the set by Sir Rex and Tony Hunt? He professed himself astounded by the precision and eerie familiarity of Steve Hardie’s Government House interior. Publicity photographers snapped away, and whereas Rex had been perfectly civil in meeting Fulgencio Saturno (who plays Admiral Busser) he refused to shake his hand for the cameras in any kind of reconciliation in this, his reincarnated office. Ian Richardson was rather uncomfortable with the idea of Sir Rex staying around for the climactic surrender scene. Fortunately Rex has to go off for his book launch soon, and will just have time to view the first assembly of some of the scenes at the film's opening. According to Brad it was an absolutely bizarre and even uncomfortable experience showing these scenes to people who actually lived the real thing, particularly because they did not necessarily view it this way or agree with everything we showed. We took many of their points on board. Tony Hunt maintains that he was never quite such a tearaway and therefore we will cut some of these scenes. But that is the point: each person who participated in these events can only recognise their specific role and shape their memories accordingly. I believe that as the only dispassionate observer who has recently met nearly all of them I can arrive at something like an objective truth. Meanwhile I was shooting the surrender scene, in which Fulgencio and Ian were both brilliant as the Admiral and the Governor. Very difficult for Fulgencio, working in a foreign language, but he was the perfect counterpart to Ian and reminded me a great deal of the real Admiral Busser.
Thursday 2 April – The last day of shooting, and no one is more conscious of what was happening ten years ago (almost to the minute in the case of one scene) than Mike Norman. He keeps glancing at his watch as we come up to lunchtime, and it is not because of hunger. “It was now” he says, full of his own thoughts. For this was the precise moment (GMT) of the surrender. A poignant day for Mike and for us, after six action-packed weeks. Lots of horse-play, some of it quite necessary. For example, three Venezuelan lads are playing the commandos who hid in a servant’s bedroom until they were flushed out. An alarm clock goes off, shattering their nerves. Try as they might, they could not master a shocked reaction. I decided drastic methods were necessary and took a leaf out of director John Frankenheimer’s diary on “Grand Prix” (when the crowd did not react enough to an imaginary crash off-screen he blew up the canteen truck). As the alarm clock struck, the armourer let off a burst off automatic fire behind their heads, which they had not been expecting. The reaction was utterly convincing, the soundtrack was changed, and they took it in very good spirits. We end the day by firing rocket grenades into archery nets for close-ups of the weapons that will be cut in to the Government House exterior ridge from which Argentine commandos are bombarding the Marines. Steve has built a fake ridge out of plastic and the result is brilliant for a night sequence. I don my commando uniform and spout Argentine Spanish for the last time. Ricardo, playing Lieutenant Lugo, has the misfortune of tumbling backwards off the “ridge” just before he is due to deliver a line but fortunately lands safely – the laughter on these occasions comes before it is known if the victim is capable of standing up. So, we come to the end a few minutes before schedule. Some two and a half hours of completed film and not a single scene lost, which is most unusual, but then this was a most unusual crew and cast. They even managed to cram in some extra scenes that I penned as we went along. The very last shot is a surprise. I had written a stage direction – “we see half the Argentine fleet in an aerial view, alternatively, a stock shot”. And there, laid before me was half the Argentine fleet but on something like plastic sheeting and the fleet looked for all the world like models on plastic sheeting. But what the hell, we wasted some precious film on it. Must find a better shot later. To make the film I have travelled scores of thousands of miles in seven countries; completed some two hundred and twenty scenes – many involving gunfire, explosives and stunts; pulled sailors off round-the-world yachts to play Argentines; sunk an amphibious personnel carrier.... and all with no injuries except for a broken nose sustained by a crew member in a fight and the death of a chicken accidentally crushed by a flying stuntman. Most importantly it was completed on time and (I believe) on (modest) budget.
© Stuart Urban