Well-known Birmingham financier Ben Browning has swapped his pinstripe suit for a dog-collar to play a vicar in a unique Midland production.
Mr Browning took a break from the Birmingham business circuit to play the local Reverend in Tortoise In Love, a film made with the help of 500 villagers at Kingston Bagpuize in Oxfordshire.
The romantic comedy was made on a shoestring budget of £180,000 with businesses and villagers buying shares in the film – and is set to be one of the cult movies of the year following its Leicester Square premiere last week.
Mr Browning, a Birmingham Mail columnist for over 10 years and former Staffordshire Conservative Parliamentary candidate, said: “It was absolutely fantastic fun. The film is a wonderful demonstration of how a community can pull together.
“It is the first time anything like this has ever been done, where an entire village has got together to make a film.
“The film was very well received at the London premiere and could well become one of the cult movies of the year.”
Mr Browning landed his part in the film through his second cousin and long-standing Kingston Bagpuize villager Guy Browning, who dreamt up the project. The Women’s Institute supplied the catering while the local beauty salon supplied the hair and make-up and local householder Virginia Grant, who owns 17th century Kingston Bagpuize House, provided the set.
Tortoise In Love is a romance based around timid gardener Tom, who falls in love with Polish au pair Anya. Most of the action centres around the village summer fete.
Distribution rights have already been snapped up in New Zealand and Australia, raising hopes of a windfall for the actors and actresses from Kingston Bagpuize. The film goes on UK release in July. Mr Browning, an experienced ex-city banker and financial adviser, is no stranger to treading the boards. At Rugby School he starred in Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman while he also played Lord Arthur Savile in the Oscar Wilde play staged by an Abbots Bromley amateur dramatics society.
And two years ago he was filmed for a T-Mobile advert driving geese through the City of London, thanks to his status as a Freeman and Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Poulters following his studies at Cirencester Agricultural College. “I was one of only two outsiders in Tortoise In Love. I have only two lines, but I delivered them perfectly.”
His second cousin Guy, who has lived in Kingston Bagpuize for 17 years, enlisted the help of a professional crew of 18 people, including a director of photography and director of lighting. The remainder of the production team consisted of 500 local volunteers, including housewives, pesnioners and schoolchildren. Filming took six weeks in the summer of 2009 with the cast and production staff working flat out from 7am to 9pm.
The film also features local MP Ed Vaizey, who said: “I was a natural. I only had to say one line and it took me 30 takes.”