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An Angel for May
She will be lost forever if he doesn’t find her in time

                                                          Director: Harley Cokeliss
                                                          Producers: Michael Lionello Cowan, Harley Cokeliss,
                                                          Jason Piette
                                                          Writer: Peter Milligan, from the novel by
                                                          Melvin Burgess
                                                          Production Company: A Spice Factory/Barzo Production
                                                          Year of Production: 2001 (Released 2002)
                                                          Where filmed: Barnsley, Grimethorpe, High Bradfield,
                                                          Penistone, Sheffield, South Yorkshire; Leeds, Marsden,
                                                          Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire during 2001.

Guerilla Books                                            Synopsis: Schoolboy Tom, an asthmatic loner, finds
                                                          he is able to travel back in time to World War II. There
                                                          he meets May, a waif-like evacuee. Returning to the
                                                          present, he learns that something terrible happened to
                                                          May just days after he left her. Determined to save her,
                                                          he resolves to alter time.

                                                          Credited cast: Tom Wilkinson (Sam Wheeler), Geraldine
                                                          James (Susan Higgins), Hugo Speer (Bob Harris),
                                                          Angeline Ball (Barbara Collins), Julie Cox (Alison), John
                                                          Benfield (PC Clegg), Nina Wadia (Science Teacher),
                                                          Matthew Beard (Tom), Charlotte Wakefield (May),
                                                          Anna Massey (Rosie), Dora Bryan (Evelyn), Michael
                                                          McNulty (‘Sniffer’), Richard Fleeshman (School Team
                                                          Captain), James Joyce (Big Kid), Daniel Mason (Short
                                                          Hair), Jonathan Bradd (‘Sir’), Andrew Foxcroft (‘Number
                                                          2’), Ashley Rhodes (Small Boy), Bill Rodgers (Fat Man),
                                                          Janine Birkett (WPC), Kate Anthony (Mrs. Cranshaw),
                                                          Carol McGuigan (Nurse), Andy Devine (Drunken Man),
                                                          Rob Riley (Desk Sergeant), Terence Maynard (Reverend
                                                          Campbell), John Skevington (Jim) and Tess as herself.

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       Guerilla Books

As the director of two acclaimed 1970s featurettes for the    title page: Charlotte Wakefield as the waif-like May.
late-lamented Children’s Film Foundation, filmmaker Harley
Cokeliss hadn’t expected to be asked to make another          above: Bomb damage recreated in South Yorkshire.
movie 25 years later. Yet, in 2001, the London-based
Californian was invited to choose a book that the renamed
Children’s Film and Television Foundation could develop
into a screenplay. He chose An Angel for May, by Melvin
Burgess, because of what he called “its emotional power and
moral agenda”.

Working with a modest £1.4 million budget he pulled
together an impressive cast that included Geraldine James,
Angeline Ball, Anna Massey, Dora Bryan and Full Monty
stars Tom Wilkinson and Hugo Speer. Wilkinson, in huge
demand after the runaway success of The Full Monty, turned

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An Angel for May    |     2001

Guerilla Books

               above: Director Harley Cokeliss with Anna            down big-money offers of significant American movies in
                         Massey, just one of the familiar faces     favour of An Angel for May. The reason? He felt that Sam
                        scattered throughout   An Angel for May.    Wheeler, the Yorkshire farmer he played in the film, was
                                                                    uncannily like his own father, who had farmed land in
                                                                    Horsforth, Leeds.
                         opposite: The ruin, in the background,
                   through which Tom travels through time.
                                                                    Cokeliss shot his film entirely in South and West Yorkshire,
                        It was built on fields close to a farm in
                                                                    creating an effective and believable patchwork of locations
                         Penistone, South Yorkshire. The wind
                                                                    that represented two very different worlds: wartime
                   machines were used to conjure up stormy
                                                                    Yorkshire in the 1940s and the same county 50 years later.
                                Yorkshire weather on fine days.     He compared the necessity of moving his crew from one
                                                                    location to another to three-dimensional chess, but stressed
                                                                    it was entirely his own choice. “An Angel for May was written
                                                                    by somebody who’s on the other side of the Pennines so
                                                                    it should be set in Lancashire, but everything described in

                                                                                                An Angel for May       |   2001

the book was to be found in Yorkshire,” he revealed. “The           cinema cunning Cokeliss used one nearby hill to represent
story had certain requirements. The boy needed to be able           ‘40s countryside and another for the present since it had
to go from one place to another. He needed to see the town          windmills in the background. Time was constantly of the
change from present day to the past. There needed to be a           essence. In the village of Marsden, near Huddersfield,
farm, a ruin that we could use, housing that could become           Cokeliss had just a few short hours to complete one vital
fields – all dictated by the story. By filming in South Yorkshire   scene. “The local council gave us one morning to film it.
we were able to receive a modest stipend from what was              We’d taken down the road signs and had turned it back into
then called the Yorkshire Media Production Agency. When             circa 1941. Then they wanted us out of their hair.”
you’re operating on a budget as tight as we were, even that
modest contribution was very significant.”                          Cokeliss was remarkably sanguine about the unpredictability
                                                                    of Yorkshire weather. He knew that making a movie on a
A key element of the film was a ruin that acted as a wormhole,      landscape dotted with giant wind turbines mean one thing:
transporting juvenile hero Tom back to the 1940s. A set             it was likely to be beyond blustery. Occasionally he and his
was built on fields close to a farm in Penistone which, for         crew had to batten down the hatches while a momentary
three weeks, hosted the principal production base. Using            storm blasted the location and sets. Then, as soon as it had

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  An Angel for May   |   2001

                                 arrived, the bad weather was gone leaving a window of
                                 beautiful late afternoon sunlight that Cokeliss, his crew and
                                 actors took full advantage of.

                                 Full of praise for his cast, Cokeliss reserved his greatest
                                 admiration for Tom Wilkinson who, following an ad-hoc
                                 workshop with his young family, urged him to give the film a

                                 happy ending. During shooting the director and writer Peter
                                 Milligan had stuck to the novel’s original bleak conclusion.
                                 Cokeliss was convinced by Wilkinson’s argument. “Over
                                 lunch Tom said ‘We’d really like to see the boy succeed.
                                 Why don’t you guys see if you can come up with an ending
                                 where the audience can go out feeling positive?’ We thought
                                 that was an intriguing idea. As it happens our funding got
                                 held up by three months, so Peter and I had the time to
                                 think about it. That was a very powerful message to send.
                                 When we showed the new script to Melvin Burgess he said
                                 ‘I wish I’d thought of that ending.’ It was very big of him and
Bo r
                                 a great compliment to us.”

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                                      An Angel for May        |    2001

Bo rue

       far left, top: Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson made An  Angel
       for May because the role he played reminded him of his own
       father, a Yorkshireman who farmed in Horsforth, Leeds.

       far left, bottom: Another rainy day. Cokeliss was remarkably
       sanguine about the unpredictability of Yorkshire weather.

       far left, bottom: Like many actresses Charlotte demands a
       lift to work.

       above: The real farm acting ‘the farm’ .

       left: The clapperboard which marries sound and picture.

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