A World War I epic produced by Steven Spielberg that filmmakers hope to shoot just six miles away from Stonehenge is meeting resistance from conservationists.
Producers of the film, titled 1917 and directed by Sam Mendes, have asked to shoot for several weeks on Salisbury Plain, which archaeologists say could damage prehistoric sites that await discovery.
Details of the movie are under wraps, but planning documents reveal that the shoot will involve a cast and crew of hundreds and a large-scale set built on land owned by the Ministry of Defence, which has given the production its blessing. Although Stonehenge is miles away, archaeologists say the site must be properly checked before building begins.
David Dawson, the director of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, which has raised concerns about the film set, tells artnet News that he was surprised to read a headline in the Daily Mail about a “battle” raging over Stonehenge.
He stresses that the society supports the film, but it wants an expert assessments of the site before any construction begins.
“The procedure for building a film set is no different from any other planned structure,” on or near archaeological sites, he says. (Dawson adds that if he was younger, he would have loved to have been an extra. A casting call went out in December for men aged 16 to 35.)
A spokeswoman for Wiltshire Council, which is due to decide shortly whether to grant permission for the temporary film set, says: “It is important an archaeological assessment is carried out prior to any work on site, as we have to be sure this proposed temporary development doesn’t cause unnecessary damage to our rich archaeological heritage. This check also helps those preparing the film set from encountering any surprises that may delay the project.”
The clock is ticking as filming is due to begin in April.
While the stars and story line of 1917 have not been revealed, the imagery on the casting call suggests it is in the tradition of Hollywood epics such as Wings and Dawn Patrol. Filming is due to take place through the summer on Salisbury Plain and in London, with a US release date of Christmas 2019, according to Variety.
Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Partners, and British co-producers Neal Street Productions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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