by Richard Bonehill
In 1986 I worked on A Month in the Country for 32 days as Colin Firth’s stand-in. I have very fond memories of the shoot. It was wonderful working with such accomplished actors as Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, and Jim Carter.
It is a testament to the skill of the Director of Photography, Ken MacMillan, that the film looks so beautiful. We had appalling weather and to make it look like a beautiful summer was a magical achievement.
The job of a stand-in involves watching the actors rehearse on set. The action is then blocked out and the stand-in places marks on the floor. He (or she) then repeats the action for the Director of Photography and camera operator so that the scene can be lit and camera angles, tracks, etc. finalised. This releases the actor for hair, makeup, wardrobe, and to prepare mentally for the scene. Basically the job is meant to save time (and therefore money) for the production company and make the actor’s time on set as stress-free as possible.
The stand-in should be the same height and colouring as the actor. (When I stood in for Christopher Lambert on Greystoke, I had to wear full body makeup every day.) A stand-in does not appear on screen. A double does appear on screen, usually doubling action sequences for the actor.
I remember spending many days as a stand-in perched on the scaffolding in St. Mary’s church. I did do, in one shot, some hand doubling for Colin. [Ed. note: see above. Mr. Firth’s real hand is below.]
The job obviously requires a stand-in to work very closely with the actor and on many productions friendships are formed and the stand-in effectively acts as a personal assistant. Some actors, for instance, would ask a stand-in to get their lunch and tea and coffee for them. Many stand-ins have formed special relationships with actors and travel the world with them, working on every film.
As far as A Month in the Country is concerned, the story — and thus much of the filming — was very intense, so Colin was understandably very focused. In such situations it was important that I gave the actor as much space as possible.
But there were lighter moments. I remember being appointed Butterfly Wrangler, helping the props guys with the butterflies that were used in the scene in the graveyard — shooing them into camera range. Another scene which springs to mind was the family tea which was staged sitting at a large round table. A nightmare in terms of camera angles and actors’ eye lines.
A stand-in is in a unique situation as he is on set every day. I found it invaluable and learnt many aspects of film making and also acting. I was very fortunate to observe some of the greatest actors on set and A Month in the Country was no exception.
— Richard Bonehill
St. Ives, Cornwall
Richard Bonehill’s Career
Mr. Bonehill was 37 during the making of A Month in the Country. He had spent several years in the late 1970s and early ’80s working in films as an extra — most famously, it would turn out, in the Star Wars films The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. [Birkin’s alter-ego was an Imperial Stormtrooper!]
From extra Mr. Bonehill moved up to stand-in, as in A Month in the Country, thence to action double. Mr. Bonehill is a master swordsman and horseman and has doubled for many famous stars in swashbuckling movies. He has also worked as an actor himself, among his countless credits crossing swords with Liam Neeson and Tim Roth in Rob Roy.
As a fencer (sabre) Mr. Bonehill has represented England and Great Britain for the past six years at the international level. In 2001 he finished in 6th place in the World Veterans Fencing Championships in Martinique. In 2002 he won the title of North Atlantic Sabre Champion in Boston.
Though he continues to work as an actor and double, today Mr. Bonehill is increasingly well known as a Sword Master, coaching duels for films and television. His recent credits include Bleak House and Sharpe’s Challenge.
Recalling his early work on A Month in the Country, he says, “In the 1980s stand-ins were not normally listed in the credits, as they were regarded as glorified extras. Obviously some took the job more seriously than others. I used the time I worked as a stand-in to learn everything I could about filming. This knowledge has been invaluable for me as a Sword Master.”