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Although the pilot episode of the show covers the story of D-Day experienced through the eyes of one soldier, Sidney Cornell, plans are already being made for how and where to shoot the rest of the series.
The team behind the show are hoping to film one very important sequence for a later episode in the series alongside the pilot, this year. That sequence is from the episode that covers the battle of Arnhem.
Show creator Lance Nielsen is always keen, where possible, to film on location where the actual stories depicted in the show took place. He speaks about the Arnhem sequence they’re intending to film early, which will form part of the promotional materials for the series.
Lance – I was always going to do an Arnhem episode for the show but I obviously didn’t want to show or re-film any of the sequences that were shown in A Bridge Too Far, as they would be almost impossible to top. Then there was the question of which individual story would be the focus of the episode. In the pilot episode, Sidney Cornell acted as a runner of the 7th Battalion HQ taking messages between the various companies during the battle.
This enabled us to show the battle for Benouville unfolding through his eyes at various key dramatic moments. I wanted to do the same with the Arnhem episode but realised picking one soldier would give us a very narrow vision of the story, so instead I decided to make the main character a fictional ten year old Dutch boy and tell the story through his eyes.
He is on his way to his cousins in Osterbeek when the landings take place and spends much of the episode trying to get back to his family home in Arnhem. Although this decision meant using a fictional character to tell the story unlike the other episodes with their true story narrative, I still based almost all of the experiences of the boy and his family on things that actually happened.
This decision gave me the freedom to take the boy where I wanted and his story was historically quite representative of a number of real incidents of Dutch families who became separated before or during the battle.
The people who suffered the most as a result of the battle of Arnhem were the Dutch themselves and I thought an episode told entirely from a Dutch civilian perspective during the conflict would prove very unique. The boy meets several British characters who we have met in previous episodes, so there is still a sense of a continuing story throughout the episode.
We knew anything to do with Arnhem was going to garner huge interest so I said to our team that we should, if possible, try and shoot one single sequence for the Arnhem episode ahead of time. It had to be a scene, which would capture the drama and tragedy of that ill-fated operation. In the episode early one morning, the boy sneaks down to a mist covered Rhine river and witnesses the British attempting relieve the defenders of the bridge via the lower river road.
However when the mist lifts the British find themselves under fire from Germans both across the river and in the houses above them. The British force disintegrates in a matter of minutes as the boy looks on in horror. This was a sequence that was not covered in A Bridge Too Far nor in the earlier film about the battle, Theirs is the Glory.
Shooting this sequence would also show our fans they were going to see aspects of the entire series. When we come to film the Arnhem episode, I do, of course, want to get a few shots, where possible, shot in Arnhem itself however shooting options here are extremely limited because of the significant changes and rebuilding that occurred after the war. The only other logical choice where certain scenes could be filmed was the town where A Bridge Too Far was filmed, Deventer.
Assuming we can secure the co-operation of Deventer, the plan for this sequence is to shoot the scene with three cameras simultaneously, including one unit across the river showing the Germans POV. Shooting this sequence in Arnhem was impossible due to all the changes in this area, far too many to hide or remove. Deventer however, has had far less modernism since the war and the historical town itself was spared a costly battle. It still has much of its pre-war architecture intact. As with everything in film, there is a compromise.
The bend in the river where this massacre took place was in fact much further back from the bridge in reality, while filming at Deventer the British Paratroopers will just get a glimpse of the southern end of Arnhem Bridge before meeting their grizzly fate. You could argue from a visual point of view with the bridge almost within their grasp the sequence will be more visually effective.
So the sequence will be as accurate as we can make it, given the limitations and really Deventer is the only logical place to film this.
One of the benefits of Google earth street view is that you can take a look around and see what will work and what won’t for shooting. Even though an onsite recce is always vital when checking the suitability of any location, we could still work out roughly where to put our cameras and see what major improvements in the area would present us with the most challenges. You can remove or change a great deal these days but it’s always best to avoid that where possible.
Ultimately when we come back to make this episode I think we will probably film about 50% in Arnhem and about 50% in Deventer. Both will have a number of key exteriors which will work for the episode and enable the viewers to feel as though they have seen Arnhem as it was.
Read more about the Paratrooper Series
Although I will not be directing every episode of Paratrooper, I will be directing this one. Bringing to life a story from one of the most dramatic battles of World War 2 is both an honor and privilege and one which I do take very seriously.
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Of course we won’t know until quite late in the day if we’re going to get to film this extra scene this year or not, but all the more reason to plan ahead so if we are, we’re ready. As the Paras would say – “Ready for anything!”