How two Cheshire film-makers documented the rich history of Burma

Burma's Lost Royals look on at the Lion Throne from which their ancestors ruled Burma, Yangon Decemb

Burma's Lost Royals look on at the Lion Throne from which their ancestors ruled Burma, Yangon December 2016 - Credit: Alex Beconsby

Being a film-maker was never the plan when he was growing up in Hale, but a visit to Burma changed Alex Bescoby’s life. Words by Paul Mackenzie.

Alex and Max on shoot in Mandalay, December 2016

Alex and Max on shoot in Mandalay, December 2016 - Credit: Alex Beconsby

Beyond a vague knowledge of Ang San Suu Kyi’s years of house arrest and subsequent election to high office, many people would admit their knowledge of Burma is limited. But a former pupil of Altrincham Grammar School is hoping to increase awareness of the country through a new film which is due to be premiered this year.

Alex Bescoby spoke to Cheshire Life after a meeting at which he showed his film to a major broadcaster. ‘It was like taking a baby to be examined,’ he said. ‘I’ve given so much of myself to making this film and then it was up there to be criticised.’

It may never have been made at all, had Alex not had a change of heart while studying for a history and politics degree at Cambridge University. He was about to begin a thesis on local government in the UK but put his name down for a scholarship to south east Asia.

‘I was packed off to Burma and Thailand for a few months,’ Alex said. ‘I completely fell in love and I have been going back ever since. After Cambridge I worked for companies who were looking to do business in frontier markets and the only place I ever wanted to go back to was Burma.’

Thaddhi, part of the Grammar Productions team, on shoot in Mandalay November 2016

Thaddhi, part of the Grammar Productions team, on shoot in Mandalay November 2016 - Credit: Alex Beconsby

Between jobs Alex began to study the history of Burma and learned about the British rule of the country and the Burmese royal family. They had been swept from power in the late 19th century by the British, but the family lives on. When Alex happened to meet some of them he was inspired to tell their story.

‘The last king of Burma is buried in India, in the wrong place, because of the British,’ he said. ‘There has been talk about bringing him home. He died in exile but not even the family can agree on what should happen. There is top level support for it but I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not. He’s not just some ordinary dead guy, he was considered a demi-god and was the head of Buddhism.

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‘I called a friend from Hale, Max Jones, another ex-Altrincham Grammar pupil and said that they need to have this story told.’

The pair founded Grammar Productions – a nod to their old school – and began work interviewing the family and piecing together their story. When Alex and Max ran out of money to fund the film they applied to the Alan Whicker Foundation for young film makers. After a gruelling selection process they beat off competition from about 100 other film projects to be awarded £80,000.

‘That money has been invaluable,’ Alex said. ‘It enabled us to tell the family’s story and hopefully to make more people aware of what happened in Burma.

‘I was about to write a book but I knew no-one would read it. I wanted people to know the story but the majority of people won’t pick up a book about the history of Burma, but they might watch a film.

‘Because I had no experience, I thought I could do it. With no experience, no-one takes you seriously but the constant feedback I had was “go and do it”.

‘My passion is to make films about parts of history that I think people in the UK should know more about. These are important stories and they deserve to be told to the widest possible audience. I find those lesser known, more obscure stories fascinating

‘As we enter a post-Brexit world I think we need to constantly reflect on where we stand as a nation. The world has changed, there’s a lot going on around the world.’

The film – Burma’s Lost Royals – is due to be given its UK premiere in September, with a first showing in Burma soon after and could (if that meeting with the broadcaster was a success) subsequently be shown on television.

Alex, who grew up in Hale and now lives in south London, is due to return to Burma with more film ideas soon. w

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