Barbara Flynn brings a touch of class to The Christmas Candle, says Shelley Marsden
The name may not strike a chord, but Barbara Flynn’s face will be familiar to British viewers.
The actress, whose “daddy” was from Banbridge and mother from Dunmurry, has unwittingly carved out a niche for herself in “endless costume dramas” like Cranford and 2007 film Miss Potter, about the life of writer Beatrix Potter, which saw Rene Zellwegger strain against her corseted existence (she was Beatrix’ social-climbing mother).
She stays true to form in festive offering The Christmas Candle, which despite mixed reviews Stateside she’s enjoyed working on immensely (“we have no control over the end product – you just give it your all, then by the time people are reviewing it you’ve moved on”).
Set in the sleepy village of Gladbury, legend has it that every twenty-five years an angel visits the village candle-maker and touches a single candle. Whoever lights it will see their request granted on Christmas Eve. But in 1890, at the dawn of the modern age, things are set to change.
With the arrival of skeptical young minister David Richmond (Hans Matheson), Gladbury’s humble candle-maker Edward Haddington (Sylvester McCoy), must fight to preserve his family’s legacy. When the Christmas Candle goes missing, the miraculous and the human collide in the most astonishing Christmas the town of Gladbury has ever seen.
A feel-good film, Barbara was attracted to its “gentle” and “historically interesting” script, with its “story full of hope -you get the feeling things are going to work out in the end.” The Cotswolds location, too, seems to have ticked all the boxes for a picturesque English setting: the Jacobean-era Stanmore House, church, churchyard; even a little river with bridges running over it.
She shares a local tale about the tall glass window in the great hall of the house, where they filmed the first scene: “The story went that J.M.Barry, who lived nearby, was having tea with the then owners and had an inspirational moment. While he watched the light refract through this tall multi-paned window, he got the idea for Tinkerbell. Working there, you can imagine that being true. It was a charming shoot, from many points of view.”
She plays Lady Camdon, the dignified lady of the village who after its priest dies convinces Hans Matheson’s minister, who is working in the Salvation Army in London, that the village desperately needs him.
A cast member viewers will be watching closely is Susan Boyle, in her first film role. The Britain’s Got Talent winner, who opened up recently about her Asperger’s syndrome was, says Barbara, a generous and unassuming woman on set.
But though the Open All Hours star is reticent, something about the Scot’s involvement in the film seems to perturb her.
“I think it was difficult for her”, she says thoughtfully. “ I didn’t have any dialogue scenes with her, but I met Susan and I found her very sweet. She’s… uite different, and she’s had a difficult time. It’s not her world, therefore it was a big ask to join it.”
And what of the singer’s performance; she has some singing scenes in The Christmas Candle? “I haven’t seen the film, so we’ll have to see… One might expect all sorts of wonderful singing, but… we did do a lot of shots on the reverse going, oh my God she sings like an angel, and then when the camera went the other way she found it very hard. She’s never done anything live, you know? She never does live shows, as has recently come out in the media.”
When I ask Barbara about when she started out, she laughs warmly and asks if I need to know the year or the century too. It was 1968, and she had just graduated with a Gold medal from the Guildhall School of Acting, something she’s still proud of.
“I started out with Coventry Rep for six months earning £10 a week, before moving on to earn masses more at Granada Television, doing Family At War. That series went on for two and a half years –in the first 13 episodes we switched from black and white to colour, how historic is that?
She remembers how much she enjoyed working in the north of England, where it was filmed, because it reminded her of her parents’ homeland and the cast and crew was full of northerners who were inevitably, as her granny would have said, “great craic”.
More recently she appeared briefly in The Borgias (which is brushed off good-humouredly as a “quick visitation”) and starred in ITV comedy Pat and Cabbage with Cheri Lunghi, about two mature ladies with no plans to grow old gracefully.
During filming she had two days off, but used them to film scenes as Queen Victoria in 1864, a Danish TV series currently in production about the Second Schleswig War fought between the Kingdom of Denmark and the German Confederation (Prussia & Austria).
“I play Queens”, she laughs. “I loved playing our present Queen, and I’ve also played Mary Queen of Scots. I can’t wait to see that series; Ole Bornedal is such an interesting director.”
Has she had any roles she’d rather forget about? “Not really. You have to go for what you think you’ll enjoy – and can get of course. I came late to Shakespeare and haven’t wandered enough in the Classics, so I suppose my regrets are things I haven’t had a chance to do.”
She adds: “I’ve never done my parents’ Northern Irish accent, that lovely lilt they had. I did it at drama school, but never professionally. That would be something.”
Barbara’s just turned 65, and has shed a lot of weight after going on a diet and is feeling (and looking) great. She tells me she doesn’t feel her age, but isn’t sure what that’s supposed to feel like.
“Age has always been irrelevant anyway. When I was younger, some of my friends were 40 years older than me – you get on with people, or you don’t. I feel… I feel very alive and good, and ready to do more.”
The Christmas Candle is out from December 13 nationwide. For more see http://thechristmascandle.moonfruit.com.