Making a small independent British film is never going to be easy at the best of times, but the creators of new BBC Films comedy What We Did On Our Holiday found they had to contend with another unforeseen hazard. The new black comedy starring David Tennant and Billy Connolly features some stunning locations in the Highlands of Scotland, but the filmmakers soon discovered that these came at a cost when their big finale scene was nearly sabotaged by some of Scotland’s tiniest wildlife – the dreaded midges!
In his production diary published in the Telegraph Magazine recently, Andy Hamilton told how the shoot was subjected to an unrelenting invasion by billions of the insects that set the air shimmering with their sheer numbers. Some of the crew were offered midge nets for protection but this was obviously not an option for the actors who just had to gin and bear it. Andy chose not to use one in solidarity with the stars of the film, who also included Ben Miller, Rosamund Pike and Amelia Bullmore.
“I opted not to wear one, because I cannot face the shame of giving notes to unprotected actors from behind a mesh burqa,” he said. “Ben Miller asked me if we could see the midges in the actual footage, on the screen of our viewing monitor. I replied that I could answer that question were it not for the billions of midges between me and the screen.”
Ben Miller himself was shocked by the scale of the invasion.
“You've never seen anything like it,” he declared. "It was like in The Mummy, where all those locusts form that huge pharaoh and then chase, it was a bit like that. They'd form themselves into beasts and chase you down the hillside. You get out the car and people are dressed like beekeepers. That's what you have to wear if you want to keep midges off, there's just no doing it. We were doing one scene towards the end and my mouth was so full of midges I had to stop and get a glass of water. It was really grim, so grim."
However, Andy had nothing but praise for his cast and crew who still carried on working in the unpleasant conditions.
“At the end of takes the poor cameramen, who have to keep still while operating, are choking like the victims of chemical attacks. The crew would be entitled to down tools in such unreasonable conditions. But nobody does,” he says through his diary. “Because in the middle of all this carnage David and Ben are giving beautiful performances of long, moving speeches. Even though they are being devoured, neither registers so much as the faintest of twitches, and the crew are inspired by their professionalism. There is a popular conception about actors that they are fragile luvvies. Do not believe a word of it. Physically and mentally, when the chips are down they are tough as nails.”
But the invasion was useful in one respect, he claims: “It did help in the ceilidh scene, where everyone is supposed to be upset anyway. Any time Ben or David are looking especially distressed, that’s them being eaten alive.”
What We Did On Our Holiday follows a family going through a difficult split as they travel up to Scotland to celebrate a family birthday. The children are under strict instructions not to spill the beans about the divorce, but keeping up appearances becomes the least of their worries when a major event brings them all into the media spotlight. The heartwarming comedy is written and directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, the creators of Outnumbered, and is in cinemas throughout the UK and Ireland now