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Cider With Rosie: 'It sums up a place and time in this country we don't want to forget'

Having undergone a revival of sorts, the all-new cast of Cider With Rosie talk to Gemma Dunn about catching the acting bug

Published 26/09/2015

Samantha Morton and her co-stars in Cider With Rosie
Samantha Morton and her co-stars in Cider With Rosie

When the BBC announced an ambitious season of classic 20th-century literature, it was no great surprise that a remake of Laurie Lee's much-loved book - filled with memories of his childhood - made the cut.

Set immediately after the Great War in the idyllic Cotswold village of Slad, Cider With Rosie marks the journey of young Lol (Lee) who, in his transition from boy to man, discovers what it's like to love and grieve for the first time, in the midst of much family turmoil.

An instant bestseller upon its original publication in 1959, it's an enchanting and moving tale of growing up.

A NEW EDITION

Last adapted in 1971, this landmark reform is the handiwork of writer Ben Vanstone (Merlin, The Borrowers, EastEnders) and director Philippa Lowthorpe (Call the Midwife, Five Daughters).

Lowthorpe, who chose to re-read the book instead of watch previous adaptations, recalls the soft spot she had for the "evocative, coming-of-age story" as a teenager.

"I think I was a bit in love with Laurie Lee; I read all of his books, so when the chance came for me to direct, I already knew I'd love to do it."

In turn, Vanstone considers Lee's writing to be "poetic and wonderful". Paying homage to a particular quote - "It was the end of a thousand years of life" - he believes the text "sums up a place and time in this country that we don't want to lose."

APPOINTING THE CAST

While many directors would have taken on stage-school kids to fill the younger roles, Lowthorpe had other ideas. When casting, she scoured local Gloucestershire schools for students who had little-to-no previous acting experience or ambition. Her reasoning? She prefers working with "non-professional children".

It was during this process that she discovered four newcomers (each pair taking on Lol and Rosie at different ages). The younger versions are played by 10-year-old Georgie Smith and seven-year-old Libby Easton; whereas the teenage years will be realised by Archie Cox (15, whom Lowthorpe thought bore a likeness to Laurie Lee) and Ruby Ashbourne Serkis (16).

RAW TALENT

"What these two kids have that's so rare is a magical stillness on screen," says Lowthorpe of Cox and Ashbourne Serkis. "They barely do anything and that's proper screen acting. Not many people can do it, that's what I look for ...

"It's a very different skill - film acting from stage acting - and I like the fact that Archie didn't have any ambitions to be an actor."

In fact, Cox, didn't even realise until the final stages of auditions that he wasn't just battling it out to be an extra.

"I don't even take drama as a GCSE, but I think I've now caught the acting bug," he says.

As for Ashbourne Serkis, she's enrolled in sixth form, but her acting dreams are far from over. "I've got a couple of auditions lined up. As a first job, Cider With Rosie is perfect; I've always had ambition to do what mum and dad do."

The daughter of actors Lorraine Ashbourne and Andy Serkis (best known for playing Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings franchise), she confesses that while there's much support for her work, she "gets annoyed when they give her advice", preferring to "do my own thing".

STELLAR LINE-UP

When it comes to fellow cast members, the newbies are in good company. There's Emma Curtis, June Whitfield, Annette Crosbie, Billy Howle, and Timothy Spall (as the voice of Laurie Lee). And also Jessica Hynes, who takes the role of strict teacher, Miss Crabby.

STAYING MUM

Samantha Morton stars as Annie, Lee's mother. She'd been in line for a role since announcing Cider With Rosie is her all-time favourite book, and encouraged the children to let go of their inhibitions. She speaks fondly of her co-stars and claims that maintaining a good working relationship with a child, adult or animal is down to bouncing off one another.

"It's not easy being a child and doing long hours on a film set, but if you make it fun and interesting, then ultimately, they're having the time of their lives.

"I cherish the times I spent with them; they are so innocent and earnest. There are no games; they are just there to do it. That was one of the best bits for me."

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Adding to the nostalgia this time around is, undoubtedly, the fact the show was filmed around the corner from Lee's real house on the edge of Slad Valley.

Being able to work in the same location, Lowthorpe says, was "incredibly important to the whole film".

"It's unspoilt and astonishingly beautiful; a pocket of land that's entirely forgotten about," she says of the valley that sits two miles from the tiny village of Slad. "We wanted to capture those feelings of life and death being hand in hand, and part of the natural cycles of the valley, along with the seasons."

  • Cider With Rosie, BBC One, tomorrow, 8.30pm

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