Roly Smith visits the set of the gritty BBC One drama series The Village, filmed on the western edge of the Peak District.
This feature originally appeared in BBC Countryfile Magazine in May 2013
Watched over by the elegant, pinnacled tower of the Georgian church, villagers gather solemnly around the war memorial. There’s an air of foreboding as, mingled with the long dresses and coats, bowler hats and dark suits, are the crisply ironed khaki uniforms worn by the young men of the village.
It’s 1914, and the village is bidding farewell to its virgin soldiers, many of whom will not return from the horrors of the Somme and the senseless slaughter that became the hallmark of the First World War.
It’s the opening sequence in the new blockbuster BBC One drama series The Village, which was shot in and around Hayfield, Derbyshire, and other towns and villages on the north-western side of the Peak District. But unlike most recent period dramas such as Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice, this series, written by BAFTA-winning writer Peter Moffat, looks at world events through the lives of ordinary people.
“I think there has been a small imbalance towards the people at the ‘big house’ in recent period TV dramas,” Moffat told me. “Although undeniably interesting, they have not been about real people and it feels quite fresh to look at events as seen through the lives of villagers across the class spectrum.”
Among the star-studded cast of more than 40 established and many up-and-coming actors is John Simm (who starred in The Lakes and Life on Mars) as troubled farmer John Middleton, and Maxine Peake (Shameless and Silk) as his long-suffering wife, Grace.
But why choose to set the drama in this High Peak village? “As the camera never leaves the village, I wanted to choose somewhere that was truly a bit of England,” Moffat explained. “Not a fishing or mining village, but a true rural location in the north.”
Producer Emma Burge agreed: “We were looking for a not-too-busy village that is part of its rural landscape, and Hayfield fitted the bill beautifully. We have had complete co-operation from local people, many of whom have doubled as extras.”
“Ordinary working people”
As we walked to the Royal Hotel in Hayfield crossing the River Sett by the village bridge, Emma described how the night before, John Simm had plunged, unscripted, thigh-deep into the icy-cold river as his character John Middleton desperately searched for his missing son, Bert (played by Bill Jones).
“It certainly made the struggle look real, which is what we have tried to do throughout the series,” said Emma. “Any mud you see on women’s long skirts in this series is real Derbyshire mud.”
John Simm said: “I was delighted to be working with such a great director [Antonia Bird] and brilliant writer, and alongside such a great cast. I’ve long been a fan of both Antonia and Peter.”
Maxine Peake said: “My character is a matriarchal figure, I suppose, trying to hold the family together. But she also represents the way that women have been treated through the centuries, and ends up, as so many did during the war, working in the local factory. Women were finding independence for the first time, moving into the workplace as the men went off to fight.
“Peter Moffat’s script is just brilliant, because unlike most, it doesn’t focus on the decision-makers, but on ordinary working people.”
“I wanted to choose somewhere that was truly a bit of England. A true rural location in the north.”
Maxine was often taken to the Peak District by her parents as a child, so knows the area well. “It’s beautiful round here, and not far from where we used to live in Salford. Dad would often take us on a 10-mile hike round Kinder Scout, Hucklow or Eyam.”
For Juliet Stevenson (Lady Clem Allingham), perhaps best known for her role in Truly, Madly, Deeply and her work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, filming in Derbyshire is like coming home, because her partner, anthropologist
Hugh Brody, comes from Sheffield. “I love it round here. The people have made us so welcome” she said. “It’s a great script, a great cast, and a great idea to tell the story of the century as it affected ordinary people.”
Transforming the village
Hayfield was transformed into the eponymous and anonymous village for the duration of filming for the series. Kinder Road was converted to High Street, with suitably distressed painted shop fronts advertising the village greengrocer, drapers and hardware store. Rosie’s Café became Hankin’s Drapery Shop, but the filming didn’t stop Andrew and Deidre Stables, the proprietors, from serving their customers (and the production crew) with Deidre’s home-baked cakes and fresh sandwiches.
Andrew said: “The production team only used the exterior of the café for the filming. The interior was converted from an empty house a few doors down, next to Derbyshire’s fruit and veg shop. The general opinion is that it’s been a good thing for the village, and people enjoyed having the film crews here.”
Below the ‘High Street’, the surface of the steep incline of Dungeon Brow was torn-up and converted into a dirt track. As was the cobbled alleyway that leads down to The Royal Hotel, past the wooden porch of the fictional Lamb Inn in The Village.
Dave Ash, landlord of The Royal, said: “The filming of The Village has given Hayfield a tremendous boost. It’s always been a lovely village to live in, with a tremendous community spirit, but it’s not often we get so much attention. We put up several of the actors and crew here, and they were a lovely bunch of people.”
The actual pub interiors seen in the series were shot in the King’s Arms Hotel in nearby Chapel-en-le-Frith, where the town’s Institute was also converted to The Playhouse. The local big house, home of the ruling Allingham family, is the Victorian Gothic pile of nearby Bowden Hall, and the estate’s farm and kitchen gardens are those of the National Trust’s historic estate at Tatton Park Farm, near Knutsford.
Local building contractor Nigel Webb lives at the nine-bedroomed Bowden Hall, which has origins dating back to the 14th century. “Using the hall for the filming wasn’t too bad,” said Nigel, who has lived there for six years. “I thought there would be a lot of disruption, but there really wasn’t, and being a builder, I’m supervising the restoration myself.”
John and Grace Middleton’s poverty-stricken farm is Highfield Farm at Upper Booth, Edale, on the southern side of Kinder Scout, and the village train station, where the soldiers leave for the war, is a remodelled Edale station, on the Hope Valley Line.
As you watch the series unfold, these disparate parts of the Peak landscape will be seamlessly fitted together to tell a compelling story of our rural past.
Many popular film and TV series have been shot in British towns and villages:
1. Holmfirth, West Yorkshire: Last of the Summer Wine
2. Goathland, North Yorkshire: Heartbeat
3. Portmerion, Gwynedd: The Prisoner
4. Castle Combe, Wiltshire: Doctor Doolittle and War Horse
5. Turville, Oxfordshire: The Vicar of Dibley
6. Wallingford, Oxfordshire: Midsomer Murders
7. Thirsk, North Yorkshire: All Creatures Great and Small
8. Lacock, Wiltshire: Pride and Prejudice and Cranford
9. Plockton, Highlands: Hamish Macbeth and The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries
10. Esholt, North Yorkshire: Emmerdale