Worthing Town Hall takes centre stage in new film ​​Vindication Swim

​​Vindication Swim is playing to packed houses, putting Sussex in the spotlight thanks to Hove film director Elliott Hasler.

Among the many scenes filmed locally, Worthing Town Hall takes centre stage when a courtroom drama plays out.

Elliott Hasler, the UK’s youngest feature film director, has been described as the most exciting emerging talent in the country and won high praise after completing his first feature, Charlie’s Letters, aged 16.

The former Shoreham College student wanted his second feature film, Vindication Swim, to showcase the county while telling the story of Brighton-born Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel.

More than 80 extras from various groups in Worthing, Shoreham and Southwick were involved in the filming and many of them were at Worthing Town Hall on Wednesday, December 18, 2019, for the filming of court scenes.

Elliott, who was 19 at the time and studying history at Exeter University, was spending his spare time making films.

He said: “I found this story, it just popped up on a link, and I realised it would make a good film. I have been writing it for about a year.

“It is a local project and at the end of the day, we hope it will become renowned for the place it was filmed, kind of like Quadrophenia.”

His Brighton-based production company, Relsah Productions, was aiming for Vindication Swim to screen at Cannes 2021 and then perhaps Netflix but then Covid got in the way.

Elliott has been interested in film making since he was ten, when he worked on a film project based on The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at primary school.

Elliott said: “It has built up and up and now we are here. This is the largest scale proper independent film there has ever been, so it is quite complex. It is a champagne film on lemonade money. Worthing Council allowed us to use the Town Hall, they are the best people to work with on location.”

All the extras were local, including The Wellington Wailers, members of Wick Theatre Company, the U3A, The Ramblers and Dr Mark Signy, cardiologist at Worthing Hospital.

Simon Hasler, Elliott’s father and manager, said his son had built up a great reputation. They were flown to the Maldives in July 2019, where the Soneva Jani luxury resort hosted a screening of three of Elliott’s films. It was also asked to host the première of Vindication Swim at its overwater cinema.

Mercedes completed the Channel swim in 1927 in 15 hours and 15 minutes, and set many records for endurance in swimming. She is played by Kirsten Callaghan, who had to train for three months for the huge amount of swimming required.

Speaking during filming, Kirsten said: “It was very exciting. It is always nice when you are an actor to do something that challenges you in a new way. I like getting my teeth into a character and I really enjoy the challenge.”

John Locke, who played Oliver Wilson in the Oscar-winning film Darkest Hour, takes the role of Harold Best, Mercedes’ coach.

John, who also worked with Elliott on To Hunt a Tiger, said Kirsten was quite extraordinary’ during the three months of filming in the summer of 2019, when they took a boat out from Newhaven to about a mile off the coast.

He said: “When you see it, it is genuine sea swimming. Elliott’s style of filming is to use the whole environment and that is what makes him such a huge talent.”

There was also filming at the Duke of Wellington in Shoreham on the same day in December 2019, featuring local extras. The pub took the opportunity to recreate a photo that hangs in the pub of local drinkers of 1930.

Conscious of keeping the carbon footprint as low as possible and to minimise single use plastics in production, the company provided a minibus from Shoreham College to transport the cast and keep cars to a minimum, and asked all actors and extras to take reusable water bottles.

Filming moved to Amberley Museum on Monday, March 2, where Elliott created a 1920s street scene for the film. There was further filming at Amberley Museum in August 2020 with a 1916 bus.

The next stage of filming in March 2020 saw East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton make his acting debut at Hurstpierpoint College, playing the Home Secretary of 1927, William Joynson-Hicks. The scene involved him meeting Mercedes Gleitze and when he Tweeted about his experience, he used it to reiterate the need for people to be careful and use hand sanitiser.

Then, Billy Reid, who was Brighton & Hove Albion's assistant manager at the time, had his last piece of work in Brighton before the season was put on hold and the oldest pub in Brighton was closed due to the first Covid lockdown. He was playing the part of pub landlord in The Cricketers, in The Lanes, for the feature film.

Elliott was excited to be able to resume filming on Sunday, June 21, 2020, at the famous Lewes Flea Market. Classic cars from the Bexhill 100 club were driving down by their owners to help Elliott.

After its longest period of non use in its 200-year history, the Theatre Royal in Brighton was reopened during Covid for a scene in Vindication Swim.

Having booked it in January 2020 for a morning film shoot in July, manager John Bulldock allowed Elliott to film to help the theatre to prepare for reopening to the public.

Eastbourne Pier was opened on August 4, 2020, for Elliott to film a vintage scene, taking the pier back to its heyday of the early 1900s.