How Emma and portaloos led to new film

SOME years ago, Ben Elton took his old mate Emma Thompson along to a music festival in his adopted home state of Western Australia.

While the presence of the beloved star of Love Actually and The Remains Of the Day was setting festival-goers abuzz, comic and writer Elton was busy forming the nugget of what would become his first ever feature film to shoot in Australia: Three Summers.

UK comic Elton, whose extensive TV writing CV includes Blackadder, The Young Ones and The Thin Blue Line, yesterday announced the start of production on Three Summers, which he wrote and is directing. It’s filming in the Peel region, south of Perth.

“I’m a patron of the Fairbridge Music Festival — I love it, we all go in our tents and I’d sit in the bar and when the kids were younger I’d say, ‘I’ll look after the bar, you come back every hour’,” Elton told News Corp Australia yesterday.

“One year I took my dear friend Emma Thompson — which I can tell you caused a stir in the portaloo queue — and I was sat there in the bar with Emma and her husband Greg (Wise), I was saying, ‘You know what? This would make a great situation for a film ...’.

“Each year (in the queue for the portaloos) I see the little kids busting and I see the grumpy teenagers and I see the harassed parents and it’s as if nothing’s changed … except actually this year’s grumpy teenagers are last year’s busting kids and the harassed parents, maybe they’ve divorced … you know what I mean? All the stories must move on.”

Elton describes Three Summers as “Australia in a tent” and “a bunch of stories about a bunch of Australians”. Set at a Fairbridge-inspired, but fictional music festival (“Because things happen in my comedy that I hope won’t happen at Fairbridge,” Elton said), it’s an ensemble romantic comedy with two young musicians at its core, played by Australian star of Home and Away and the Molly miniseries, Rebecca Breeds, and Irish actor Robert Sheehan, best known for cult UK sci-fi TV series Misfits.

Though Ireland born and bred, Sheehan’s mother is Australian.

Elton said Sheehan will play a “furiously intense musician, this man who’s decided to conquer the least social instrument of all — the theremin”.

Breeds, who is now based in the US, is playing a “fiddle-playing, itinerant musician”. Elton praised her down to earth nature and “realness”.

The younger actors will be backed by local comedy veterans Magda Szubanski, Michael Caton, John Waters, Deborah Mailman and Pete Rowsthorn.

“I took some great pride in and was very touched by the interest Australia’s top, top, A-list of comic and dramatic actors showed in the project,” the director said.

“It offers lots of chances for comedy, but there is an edge, it’s got a heart — as with everything I do there is a social conscience at its core.”

Filming will last for just over five weeks.

Elton joked that he hoped the movie will make WA’s “Pinjarra region to become the must see, must go to tourist destination of 2019”.

But 24 years after filming his last story in Australia, the miniseries Stark, and 17 years after making his only other movie as writer and director, the London-set Maybe Baby, Elton has other, more modest ambitions for Three Summers.

“I want to make a beautiful film filled with great characters, great laughs, great music and a few tears which will also wonderfully set off my adopted home, Western Australia.”

Before production kicked off this week, Elton sent a message to Thompson in London saying: “Do you remember that film we were chatting about all those years ago?”

While she unfortunately won’t pop up in a portaloo queue in the movie, Elton said Thompson sent “much love and best wishes”.

And he reckons the Australian actors will get by without her.

“I don’t think I need a better cast than what I’ve got. Believe me, I’ve got the very best.”

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