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'Vindication Swim' film crew shoots scenes of Thames barges off Sheppey


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Once again Sheppey has proved a magnet for movie-makers.

Relsah Productions has been on the Island shooting scenes for Vindication Swim. The film stars Brighton actress Kirsten Callaghan as 26-year-old London typist Mercedes Gleitze who became the first British woman to swim the English Channel.

Brighton actress Kirsten Callaghan has been shooting scenes for the film The Vindication Swim off Sheppey. She trained for three months to become a channel swimmer for the role. Picture: Studio Essy
Brighton actress Kirsten Callaghan has been shooting scenes for the film The Vindication Swim off Sheppey. She trained for three months to become a channel swimmer for the role. Picture: Studio Essy

The true story is set in the 1920s.

Director Elliott Hasler is only 20 and still at Exeter University reading Modern History but he has already been dubbed the next Steven Spielberg. He is hoping the project will make its debut at the Cannes film festival next year.

The film crew was based at Queenborough and last weekend shot scenes off Minster beach which will double as the coast of France.

Des Cross, the harbour trust's chairman and finance director, said: "They used the harbour for their base and we helped coordinate Thames sailing barges the Edith May and Thistle. Rod Bingham supplied a support boat."

He added: "They all said they loved the fish and chips from the Golden Nugget."

Young director Elliott Hasler has been shooting his new film The Vindication Swim off Queenborough and Minster on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: Janet Brown
Young director Elliott Hasler has been shooting his new film The Vindication Swim off Queenborough and Minster on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: Janet Brown

The ambitious film tells the inspirational story of Gleitze who, along with her troubled coach Harold Best (John Locke, 'The Darkest Hour'), battled to overcome stinging jellyfish and nearly being run down by a steamer.

After eight attempts, her dogged determination paid off and following 15 hours 15 minutes in the water she landed at St Margaret's Bay, Dover, on October 7, 1927.

Within days of Gleitze announcing her success her rival, swimmer Edith Gade, played by Hollywood actress Victoria Summer (Saving Mr Banks), who flew from Florida to shoot her scenes in a 10-day window, claimed she had completed the 21-mile challenge earlier - and two hours quicker - and produced photos of herself on the beach celebrating with Champagne.

It forced Brighton-born Gleitze, under the glare of the world's media, to return to the chilly waters of the Channel for a Vindication Swim in a desperate bid to reclaim her place in the history books in what was dubbed the battle of the beach belles. Actress Kirsten spent three months training to become a channel swimmer for the role.

The whole enterprise is being masterminded from Hasler's home in Hove which he shares with his younger sister Violet, mum Kelly and dad Simon. Elliott has written the script and is also cameraman.

John Locke, actor from Brighton, plays swimming coach Harold Best in The Vindication Swim
John Locke, actor from Brighton, plays swimming coach Harold Best in The Vindication Swim

Character actor John Locke, 68, from Brighton, who was in 'The Favourite', joined actress Kersten to shoot scenes on the boats off Sheppey.

He said: "This film has been the most extraordinary experience of my professional career. Elliott is utterly outstanding. The Vindication Swim is a remarkable story about Mercedes' battle against a patriarchal society which doubted and opposed her.

"Elliott has the ability to see scenes in his head and craft shots to get angles worthy of some of the finest filmmakers past and present. He is a class act and up there with the best of them. And he also writes his own scripts. He's original and quite striking. No wonder he is being tipped as another Spielberg."

Elliott's father Simon, 54, a financial advisor when not helping his son on location, was also on Sheppey bobbing about in a boat.

He said: "We shot eight scenes in Queenborough which in the film is Cap Gris Nes in France where Mercedes begins her attempt to swim the Channel. The barges were there but we towed Popple, a clinker boat used in the film as the support vessel, from home."

Cast and crew of The Vindication Swim have been shooting scenes off the coast of Minster, Sheppey. Picture: Janet Brown
Cast and crew of The Vindication Swim have been shooting scenes off the coast of Minster, Sheppey. Picture: Janet Brown

The party left Hove at 7am and returned after midnight. Mr Hasler said: "We are a small independent production company which doesn't have the budget for hotels like big companies. And everyone has to bring their own packed lunch. We can't afford catering. But the fish and chip supper after the day's shoot on Sheppey was magnificent."

Elliott has been making films since he was 10 and his class at school was given a week off lessons to create their own movie. His dad said: "He just caught the bug. He started filming on an SLR camera and we bought some software so he could edit.

"Now all the family helps. His grandpa Dave, my dad, is a carpenter and makes all the sets and Elliott's grandmas make the costumes."

The film is expected to wrap next Tuesday (June 29) after two years of shooting, having been delayed by Covid. But it has picked up celebratory supporters along the way.

Theatre company owner Sally Humphreys, wife of Rolling Stones' guitarist Ronnie Wood, is now a co-producer. It means the film is already making waves. Hopefully, it won't sink like a stone...

Thames sailing barges the Edith May and Thistle have been featured in the film Vindication Swim shot off the coast of Minster, Sheppey. Picture: Janet Brown
Thames sailing barges the Edith May and Thistle have been featured in the film Vindication Swim shot off the coast of Minster, Sheppey. Picture: Janet Brown
Cast and crew of The Vindication Swim have been shooting scenes off the coast of Minster, Sheppey. Picture: Janet Brown
Cast and crew of The Vindication Swim have been shooting scenes off the coast of Minster, Sheppey. Picture: Janet Brown

Other film shoots on Sheppey have included the ITV drama Too Close, and Robbie Williams and Michael Crawford have also filmed there over the years.

Record Channel Crossings

1875 - Merchant navy captain Matthew Webb, 27, becomes the first person to swim the English Channel. He completes it in 21 hours 45 minutes smeared in porpoise grease. He later died trying to swim through the rapids at the bottom of Niagara Falls.

1926 - American Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to complete the crossing. She was was stopped by immigration officials when she landed at Kingsdown because she had no passport.

1927 - Mercedes Gleitze is the first British woman to complete the swim. She died on February 9, 1981, aged 80.

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