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the Sharpness Canal


Filming "Amazing Grace"

The old warehouses at Gloucester have provided ideal backgrounds for shooting scenes for period television dramas and feature films, including the Onedin Line and Vanity Fair. This page highlights a recent enterprise, and another page features filming 'Through the Looking Glass'.  

Setting the Scene
At the end of October 2005, Bakers Quay was the venue for shooting scenes for the feature film "Amazing Grace", which tells the story of William Wilberforce's crusade to abolish the slave trade. The tall ships Kaskelot, Earl of Pembroke and Phoenix (pictured right), together with appropriate scenery and actors, were used to recreate the atmosphere of the East India Docks in London circa 1780. Prior to the filming, the production company took over nearby premises to provide workshops, dressing rooms and refreshment facilities, and they paid some local businesses not to operate. Spectators were able watch all the activities from the Llanthony Quay side of the canal, being asked to remain quiet while the cameras were rolling.

Scenery and Actors
Although the old warehouses and the visiting ships provided much of the background, the film crew had to build temporary scenery to cover up modern buildings that would otherwise have ruined the scene. The production company also brought in over 150 actors dressed as dockers, boatmen and merchants etc. Some of these were to be seen moving bales, carrying a sedan chair, leading animals and working a crane, while others were climbing the rigging of the moored ships and rowing small boats. The activities of all these people were co-coordinated by instructions from the director relayed by a system of loudspeakers. 

The main scene being filmed was the passage of the Phoenix carrying merchants and slave owners past the moored ships and quayside activities in the background. Those on the moving ship were being served with lavish refreshments while being entertained by a string quartet. This passage had to be filmed many times with a variety of different camera positions, and this involved Phoenix having to make a reverse passage after each shot. To aid steerage while in reverse, outboard-powered dinghies applied sideways pressure as required and then rapidly disappeared out of camera shot prior to the next forward passage. Another scene on the quayside required rain, which was provided from a huge gantry suspended from a crane, and some shooting was done at night. 

The completed film, directed by Michael Apted and starring Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four, Hornblower) and Albert Finney (Erin Brokovich, Gathering Storm), was released in February 2007. For more about the tall ships, click here.

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