Students – they’re just professional layabouts aren’t they? Not if the scholar in question happens to be Ross Barnwell, who is well on the way to hitting the big-time with his final year project, Unto a Good Land.
This as yet unfinished TV series is said to be a hybrid of Downton Abbey and Band of Brothers, but tackles its subject in such a way that it isn’t anywhere near as hackneyed as some period dramas. Barnwell has created a story that tells of the First World War from many perspectives, not just those fighting it, and his insistence on improvisation every now and then has given some realism that he feels has been lacking in certain films relating to this most poignant of conflicts.
It all started at the age of just 14, with a trip to the battlefields of France and Belgium, and it was from here that Barnwell dreamt of merging war and film. Now aged 20, and in the final year of a Television Production course at the University of Gloucestershire, his sights are firmly set on becoming a writer and director of film and television drama – at this rate, who would be brave enough to bet against the realisation of that ambition?
But the creative process for Unto A Good Land really came into its own with the help of a real-life trench and a former teacher with a penchant for military history. Enter Andy Robertshaw, who, believe it or not, was a military advisor for Steven Spielberg’s epic War Horse. Basking in its success, Robertshaw, with the help of a JCB and a dedicated team of volunteers, embarked on the construction of a 60 foot-long trench in the back garden of his Surrey home. It is an exact replica of those used in the war – barbed wire, sandbags, you name it. Impressed with Barnwell’s aptitude for film, he invited this fledgling Spielberg to spend a whole 24 hours in the trench, along with a handful of journalists and professional reconstruction artists.
Having watched a short, silent preview, I can honestly say I am very much intrigued by it all. The lack of sound was, in fact, more beneficial as the viewer is able to gain a greater appreciation of just how true to life the visuals really are. From the bombast of the surrounding explosions, to the subtle yet determined expressions on the faces of those about to go over the top, it looks a genuine triumph of amateur film-making.
Production is due to finish in March, whereupon Unto A Good Land will be let loose on film festivals nationwide.