Shoreham airport doubles as Vienna just after the Nazis took over in the new cinema release Woman In Gold.
Helen Mirren stars in the compelling true life tale of Maria Altmann, a Holocaust survivor who, in the 1980s, went to the law courts to reclaim five paintings by the artist Gustav Klimt, which, after being stolen by the Nazis, ended up in the possession of the Austrian government.
“We did a day’s shooting at Shoreham airport,” says director Simon Curtis. “We used it for Vienna. We had to put some swastikas up and bring in some German planes!”
But it was just right for requirements: “It is a very beautiful period airport.”
A cast, including Ryan Reynolds, Katie Holmes, Charles Dance, Daniel Bruhl, Max Irons and Jonathan Pryce, help bring to the screen the little-known story of an ordinary woman’s quest to take on an entire government in order to take back what is rightfully hers.
Having fled Vienna during World War Two, an elderly Jewish woman, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), starts her journey to retrieve family possessions seized by the Nazis, among them Klimt’s famous painting The Lady in Gold.
Together with her inexperienced but plucky young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), she embarks upon a major battle which takes them all the way to the heart of the Austrian establishment and the US Supreme Court and forces her to confront difficult truths about the past along the way.
“I saw a BBC documentary about it,” Simon says. “It must have been four or five years ago. I just felt it was a very poignant story of the 20th-century with a very strong and fascinating female character at the centre.”
Mirren came on board very early: “I got the film kick-started thanks to her commitment. You don’t need to be a genius to think of Helen Mirren for the part. She is one of the most formidable actresses in the world.”
They filmed in May, June and July last year: “I think it evolves as you go on, but I would say I am very proud of the film. There is great truth about it, and something for people to enjoy. People are moved and amused and compelled, which is what a director would hope for.”
Adding to it all is the fact that it is true: “As we go into a troubled new century, it seems important to remember some of the mistakes of the past. It’s about reminding people of the Holocaust. She is a victim of World War Two. She is one person whose family was shattered.”
As Simon says, the truth is something different to each and every different person: “But you have got to go into it with good faith trying to be as accurate and faithful as you possibly can be. But you have also got a priority to make a film which is entertaining for people to watch.”
Simon’s previous film successes include for My Week with Marilyn (2011), but this latest project takes things to a much bigger scale: “”This is my century with Maria!”