Norwich is a star in new Netflix Christmas film
- Credit: Gareth Gatrell/NETFLIX
Netflix film Jingle Jangle; A Christmas Story filmed in Norwich
When David E. Talbert wrote the script for Netflix’s festive musical extravaganza Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, he pictured a fictional, magical cobblestone town as the centrepiece of the film.
“Little did I know, this town already existed,” he said of Norwich where historic Elm Hill was transformed into the vibrant Victorian town of Cobbleton at the height of last summer.
Dustings of snow were applied to the Tudor and Georgian rooftops, window ledges and cobbles as the production crew turned the clock back more than 150 years.
Norwich proved a perfect ‘stand-in’ for Cobbleton, a place big enough to support an industrial factory, but also small enough where everyone would know where to find a family toy store like that run by legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle played in the film by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker.
Production designer Gavin Bocquet was charged with creating a fictitious Victorian-era world while using Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Willy Wonka as the film’s spiritual references.
He built the sets for the film at Arborfield Studios in Berkshire including the interior of toy store Jangles and Things, which features a cornucopia of steampunk-inspired gadgets and toys, including a large, fully functioning pendulum clock and elevator with checkerboard floors, damask wallpaper and filigree on all of the stairwells. Meanwhile, Bocquet modeled a factory scene after Spanish art nouveau.
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“I didn’t want something particularly fantastical although the film does have an element of fantasy in it,” says Bocquet who has previously worked on three of the Star Wars movies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
“We wanted it to have that gritty Victorian feel and be grounded in the technology of the era, but with a fantastical edge to it.”
For the bustling street scene though, the production crew wanted the authentic feel that Norwich could deliver. It’s where a snowball fight erupts into a spectacular musical number. Elm Hill is perfectly cast, adorned with period shop fronts and props.
Mel Cook, PR and marketing manager for VisitNorwich, says even without props, actors and staging it is easy to imagine Elm Hill through the ages.
“Perhaps dirty and bustling in medieval times with traders and customers haggling for good prices, busy with shipments arriving via the Wensum, yet maybe more sedate in the Georgian or Victorian eras. Elm Hill is a street drawing every visitor in with its charm and quaintness as you stroll, peeking into tiny shop windows and entering aged buildings over uneven thresholds.
“This Christmas more than ever people will be looking for something to transport them to another world– albeit temporarily – and Jingle Jangle with its colour, energy and nostalgia I’m sure will do that. For those in the know, you can easily recognise our beautiful little cobbled street as it appears in the film.”
A casting call went for extras last April and 80 local people ultimately took part in filming. Among the Elm Hill businesses transformed into Cobbleton locations were The Games Room, Olive’s Café and Elm Hill Brides. Truman’s barbers’ handsome three-storey Georgian building was also transformed into Madam Walker’s Boutique for the film.
Proprietor Jason Howes said: “It’s a story about a cobbled world. They wanted it to be authentic. And they obviously fell in love with Elm Hill as we all do. The shop is quite a vintage one anyway, but what they did to us is absolutely incredible. They dressed it all outside and covered it in snow. They put shutters in the windows. So, knowing our stuff was hidden behind was quite impressive, to be honest. It was really nice to see.
“We’ve also got a canopy, which is quite striking, so they used that as quite a focus outside.”
Produced by John Legend’s company Get Lifted, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is billed as ‘a timeless yet unprecedented tale of magic, second chances, and the power of love to conquer all obstacles’.
The film follows Whitaker’s character, legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle, whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) – and a long-forgotten invention - to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within.
Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls), Phylicia Rashad (the Creed films), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and Ricky Martin (American Crime Story) also star as the denizens of Cobbleton.
Interspersed with whimsical stop-motion animation, show-stopping choreography, and original music the film sets out to reminds its audience of the strength of family and the power of possibility.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of imagination by Talbert and redefines what a classic musical fantasy can be for a new generation.
“All the greatest memories I had as a child came from the magic and wonder in the movies I saw,” saysTalbert.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the original Doctor Doolittle with Rex Harrison were ones I rewatched. But as I’m sitting down with my son, watching these films, there was no representation or any diversity in any of them. So, I wanted to revisit the joy, the magic, the wonder of my childhood, but then infuse it with people who look like me.”
The film is as universal as a story gets, it just happens to feature people of colour in nearly every role. Every show-stopping moment - from its grand opening, to its heroic Indiana Jones-like set pieces, to its emotional final act - is populated by people who are given costumes, hairstyles, choreography, and musical numbers (not to mention aspirations, intellect, and skill sets) that weren’t typically afforded them in the films of yesteryear.
“As an artist and creator, I want to make a film that inspires and entertains. I just want to have it be more representative of the world. Something that says people of colour can exist in a magical world.”
When it comes to nailing the film’s extraordinary ‘Afro-Victorian’ aesthetic, Talbert credits the vision and exacting eye for detail of his producing partner and wife, Lyn Sisson-Talbert, for the way all of the artistic elements were able to work in concert with each other.
Bocquet worked with David and Lyn to add deeply personal touches to all the signage. “All the stores are named after black inventors, scientists, or people of colour who were innovators in their field,” says Talbert.
Filming in Norwich brought a boost to the city’s economy last summer with 1,800 hotel room nights booked during the preparation, shooting and dismantling period. Local people and Norwich University of the Arts students were also hired as location marshals.
With a big campaign underway, ‘Norwich, the Next Chapter’, aimed at inspiring confidence in visitors to safely return back to Norwich post pandemic, there is a hope that the film will encourage more visitors in future.
Mel Cook says several years ago, VisitEngland coined the phrase ‘set-jetting’ after noticing a tourism trend - people travelling to destinations featured in books, TV and film.
“With Netflix’s global audience, my fingers are tightly crossed that our historic city of Norwich will benefit from future visits due to the exposure. With Elm Hill being added to an already established list of locations including Norwich Market, Norwich Cathedral, Tombland and The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts,” she says.
The production crew clearly enjoyed their time among the cobbles of Elm Hill. Talbert extended his gratitude after filming: “Thank you to all the beautiful people of Norwich for your hospitality and for sharing your historic city with the world.”