Behind the scenes of Sussex film Vindication Swim

Beach scenes shot in Cuckmere

Beach scenes shot in Cuckmere - Credit: Janet Brown

Those of us in Hove may have noticed some drama unfolding on the beach at the Hove Deep Sea Anglers Club earlier this month, as well as at other sites and attractions in Sussex, with shooting for the feature film Vindication Swim underway.  

The biographical drama by Relsah Productions (an independent film company in Brighton owned by film director Elliott Hasler) casts us back to the 1920s to tell the story of Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the Channel.

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Brighton actress Kirsten Callaghan plays the lead role of Mercedes Gleitze

Brighton actress Kirsten Callaghan plays the lead role of Mercedes Gleitze - Credit: Studio Essy

 

It stars Brighton actress Kirsten Callaghan in the lead role alongside Hollywood actress Victoria Summer, who plays swimming rival Edith Gade.  

Most of the film is being shot in Sussex, with locations including Cuckmere Haven, Eastbourne, Stanmer House, Lewes, Newhaven Fort and Amberley Museum. It's hoped that it’ll make its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022. 

Action at Amberley Museum

Action at Amberley Museum - Credit: Janet Brown

We caught up with Simon Hasler, who manages his son Elliott, for a sneak peek behind the scenes. 

‘Filming began in August 2019 and we had a few breaks during the pandemic,’ says Simon. ‘We resumed filming on March 20, 2021. Victoria Summer flew in from Los Angeles and needed to self-isolate and then pass three negative Covid-19 tests before she could join the set. Everything was booked so it was a massive risk but thankfully we were good to go and could get back on schedule. 

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Braving the English Channel 

Braving the English Channel - Credit: Stewart Weir

‘All the sea swimming is being filmed at sea – it’s freezing – but the stars and crew are taking it in their stride. Kirsten was trained to be a sea swimmer by a coach from Brighton Swimming Club.’  

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As we can see from the photos, Elliott joined the cast in the sea with his camera, wearing a wetsuit to help guard against the chill.

Making a splash at Cuckmere Haven

Making a splash at Cuckmere Haven - Credit: Janet Brown

 

‘A knitting club in Cuckfield run by Julie Clapp made the 1920s style swimming costumes for the actors,’ added Simon. ‘It requires a very special knit that contracts when it’s wet, the art of which had almost been forgotten, but they were able to revive it to brilliant effect.’ 

The 20s style clothing was soured from Gladrags, a Brighton charity specialising in affordable costumes. 

Scenes shot in Eastbourne

Scenes shot in Eastbourne - Credit: Kevin Harwood

Sussex has long been a favourite among directors, with scenes for films include A View to a Kill (1985), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2004), and Wonder Woman (2017) shot in the county.  

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Vindication Swim looks set to delight fans with stylish scenes that showcase the best of the county. It’s something that Simon says has been made possible by the generosity and helpful attitude of local residents and businesses. 

‘Worthing Council has been particularly amazing, and have given us access to any building they own for Elliott to film in. The people of Stanmer House have also been immensely supportive by allowing us to film there.’

Recreating a 1920s vibe at Stanmer House 

Recreating a 1920s vibe at Stanmer House - Credit: Janet Brown

 

For these scenes, classic car owners in the county rallied around by lending their motors as props.  

‘We put a call out for classic car owners who may be willing to lend us their pride and joy for a few days and the response we received was absolutely amazing,’ says Simon. ‘I needed about five cars and we were offered 30-40. People were so willing to help out and most wouldn’t even accept any petrol money for their troubles.’ 

Victoria Summer , who plays Edith Gade, filming by the Bluebell Railway

Victoria Summer , who plays Edith Gade, filming by the Bluebell Railway - Credit: Kevin Harwood

Scenes were also shot at Horsted Keynes Station, where the historic Bluebell Railway runs. 

‘All the extras have come from local amateur dramatics societies from all corners of the county, such as Seaford Little Theatre, Brighton Little Theatre and Ariel Theatre Company near Haywards Heath, among others. There is huge talent there.’

Making waves in Hastings

Making waves in Hastings - Credit: Janet Brown

Vindication Swim also stars John Locke as troubled coach Harold Best who helps Mercedes Gleitze to overcome both the cold waters of the English Channel and the patriarchal society of 1920s England. 

Elliott Hasler earned the title of the ‘UK’s youngest film director’, having completed his first feature, WWII: The Long Road Home (formerly Charlie’s Letters), aged 16 after a three-year production. His independent production company, Relsah Productions, is based in Hove.