Suffolk town's smuggling history inspires new film
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Back in our youth, many of us had ambitions to make it on the big screen. But for one pair of Suffolk youngsters, that dream is looking to become reality.
Meet Alfie Cutts and Harrison Drane - two 17-year-olds who are currently in the process of writing, directing and producing their very own feature film based on Alfie’s hometown, Hadleigh.
Entitled ‘Bootleggers of East Anglia’, it looks to explore the history of the market town's elusive smuggling tunnels.
Explaining his love of all things local, Alfie says: “I’ve always had a keen interest in finding things such as World War Two fortifications or old buildings, and learning more about their history. When I bike around the countryside, I just love looking out for things that make the journey that bit more interesting.”
It was during his bike rides in lockdown that Alfie stumbled upon his latest historical obsession – the Hadleigh tunnels.
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“I’d been cycling the puzzling lanes of the Suffolk countryside, searching for a story. All the talk of the pubs being closed made me truly appreciate the lonely inns that are dotted between villages every few miles. That, coupled with talk of smugglers in the area, especially in my own hometown, really caught my interest.”
The Hadleigh Gang was a cohort of highly organised smugglers who reportedly specialised in moving a variety of wet and dry goods such as tea across the county during the 18th century.
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Reports from the time suggest the gang, which was comprised of around 100 men, would operate from Sizewell beach, transporting the goods inland on horseback and then via cellars or even tunnels.
“The scale of their operations would’ve been huge, and anytime I passed an inn in the countryside, I thought it was probable it would’ve been used as a place of concealment.”
Keen to uncover more and bring this fascinating tale to life, Alfie explains how the visual project first developed.
“Harrison and I have always experimented with short films, often travelling to various locations across Suffolk. I thought there’s not been anything done on Hadleigh on a larger scale, so it went from there really.
“I asked around on social media and sent out a few emails to see if anyone would be interested in acting or working on a voluntary film project.”
Alfie was soon inundated with so much interest that he now has a full cast of actors, with around 70 people so far involved.
“The response has been absolutely amazing,” he adds.
“Word soon spread throughout Hadleigh, and I find myself with a large potential cast and team of historical advisors. Our priority is to create this film with as many local people as possible, to give those who would love the experience the chance to get involved.”
The piece, a historical drama, is set in both the present day and the 18th century.
It follows four teenagers who have discovered the entrance of a smugglers’ tunnel in the middle of the Suffolk countryside. As they journey down, they quickly uncover evidence of smuggling from a bygone era.
“The film will then delve into the past, and explore the story of Tom Tipperman - a smuggler who is tasked with delivering the final load of goods from Sizewell gap to Hadleigh before the authorities find out.”
Alfie, who is currently a student at Northgate Sixth Form, works on the film in the evenings and weekends. He hopes to start shooting this summer now lockdown restrictions have begun to ease.
“Writing the script has been absolutely brilliant, but currently we’re tweaking it in places alongside those who are playing the characters, to help us get a better sense of the dialogue. We’re really excited to finally start meeting the people who are going to be involved on this.”
Alfie hopes, lockdown permitting, that he will be able to complete and release his feature film in the autumn of this year. “It’s all looking really promising, and we hope to show it in local theatres towards the end of the year,” he says.
If all goes to plan, Bootleggers of East Anglia could be Alfie’s big break – but where does he see himself in the future?
“I’d love to do anything that involves creativity, history or working alongside other people. I just have a passion for sharing local history and showing off the secrets that surround the Suffolk countryside. I feel anything to help regain that community sense of spirit is very much needed at the moment.”
Anyone who would like to find out more about Bootleggers of East Anglia, or wishes to get involved, should contact with Alfie by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org