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From city lights to film rights

Dan Stevens and Emily Browning
Dan Stevens and Emily Browning

Former Kent schoolboy Jeremy Cowdrey left a high-flying career in the City to become a film producer. And in his first feature, Summer in February, the connections he made in the county proved key in its creation, as he told Kathryn Tye.

Jeremy Cowdrey first read Summer in February back in 1996, picking up the novel because it was written by one of his old teachers.

Set in the years before the First World War, it tells the true story of a Cornish artists’ community, the bohemian Lamorna Group, dominated by Alfred Munnings. Anti-modernist Munnings is at the heart of a complex love triangle involving the young aspiring painter Florence Carter-Wood and Gilbert Evans, the land agent in charge of the Lamorna estate.

Jeremy, who went to Tonbridge School and is the son of England cricket legend Colin Cowrdey, said: “It is one of those books that when you read, you think that would make a good film, because it is so visual, not just with the artwork but as it is set in a beautiful area of Cornwall.

“It was something that I kept thinking about, so finally in 2005 I rang Jonathan Smith who had written the book and asked if he would let me get the rights to do it.”

Dan Stevens and Dominic Cooper
Dan Stevens and Dominic Cooper

Jonathan agreed, also agreeing to write the screenplay, and Jeremy continued working as a stockbroker and working on the film in his spare time.

It was another former Tonbridge School pupil who helped move the project along – Dan Stevens, now well known as Matthew Crawley in hit ITV drama Downton Abbey.

Jeremy said: “Jonathan introduced me to Dan, who he also taught. Dan was really interested in the project. He read the book and said he wanted to play the part of Gilbert and the three of us came up with some ideas for the film and really moved it along.”

Fellow producers Pippa Cross and Janette Day had read an early draft of the script, but it was not until summer 2011 that they returned to the project, agreeing to co-produce it with Jeremy and Dan.

But by this time Dan had found huge success with Downton Abbey, leaving them a limited timeframe to shoot with him.

Dan Stevens and Emily Browning
Dan Stevens and Emily Browning

Jeremy said: “We saw Dan’s agent, who said we could only have him in January and then, after the third series of Downton Abbey, they couldn’t guarantee him. Dan had been involved all along and I just felt it would not be right to do it without him.”

Jeremy swept into action, using his City connections to raise the £5m needed, and they also began securing a crew and the rest of the cast, which includes acclaimed young talents such as Dominic Cooper (The History Boys), Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) and Hattie Morahan (Sense and Sensibility).Jeremy said: “We were lucky. For a film of our size it is an incredible cast, but the quality of the script and story attracted them.”

Just three months after they began preparations, shooting started in Cornwall in January, an unenviable introduction to the film world for a first-time producer, but Jeremy says that the pressure of the experience brought them all together.

Jeremy Cowdrey
Jeremy Cowdrey

He said: “We had a cast and crew of 80 people and it was a bit mad. But we became good friends. We had a belief in the story and a belief in each other.

“I was able to bring fresh ideas and also because I had been in the City for 20 years I was able to raise the money.”

The shoot finished in March and Jeremy is proud to reveal that they didn’t miss a single deadline.

“It’s quite a clinical, disciplined thing, shooting a film, but it has to be when you have a cast and crew of more than 80 people. And the most important thing is communication and teamwork."

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