Doctor Who star Matt Smith exchanged the TARDIS for the trains of the Downpatrick & County Down Railway this week while filming a new TV drama.
But it was time travel of a different kind as the local heritage railway was transformed into 1930s Berlin for several key scenes of the BBC2 drama ‘Christopher and His Kind’.
The Time Lord actor plays the lead role of English novelist Christopher Isherwood who lived in Berlin during the period of Hitler’s rise to power in the feature-length drama.
He was joined on set by fellow Doctor Who actor Toby Jones who played the villainous ‘Dream Lord’ in the episode “Amy’s Choice”, which aired two weeks ago on BBC1. Toby Jones plays
Gerald Hamilton, a peculiar man who provided the inspiration for the title character in the Isherwood novel ‘Mr Norris Changes Trains’.
Railway chairman Michael Collins said they were delighted to assist the film-makers.”We have one or two Doctor Who fans amongst our volunteers,” he admits, “so they were straight down and amongst the set to get up close and see Matt and Toby’s performances.”
Filming took place in the late evening and early morning of last Wednesday and Thursday (26th and 27th May). Mr Collins adds that while the script, and the production, is a tightly guarded secret keenly kept by the production team, Mammoth Screen, the Time Lord didn’t escape entirely unnoticed.
“A couple of local school children somehow got wind of what was happening and managed to sneak in past the crew to meet Matt and get some autographs, which he was more than happy to do” he grins.
Mr. Collins continues, “It really is terrific what their art department did, our foyer was transformed into an 1930s Amsterdam café, while the station platform was adorned with German station names.
“Nothing was left to chance as they strove to create an authentic 1930s Berlin feel. The crew pasted up posters for the Volksfest carnival of 1933 and ‘Deutschland Ernacht’ on the walls and old tables and chairs and a bar replaced ticket racks in the station”.
He adds, “They also fell in love with our 1935 German built steam engines, which they simply couldn’t get anywhere – even although they were built for Ireland.” Mr Collins says that the fact that the Downpatrick railway was chosen for another major production demonstrates its growing appeal as a film location.
“We’re no stranger to big names filming in Downpatrick – over the years we’ve had Griff Rhys Jones, Graham Norton and Harry Seacombe all filming sequences at Downpatrick.”
He adds, “It shows that we can offer something different to other organisations, where they can set up in time and have the flexibility to get the station and train as they would want it.”
The production company is hoping to use a number of other locations in Northern Ireland, including Mount Stewart House in Newtownards, Ballywalter Park Estate and the Scottish Mutual Building behind City Hall in Belfast.
This 90-minute film is directed by Geoffrey Sax (Tipping The Velvet) and produced by Celia Duval (Margot) for Mammoth Screen, with Michele Buck, Kevin Elyot and Damien Timmer as executive producers.