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Village's West End night out
It was pure, unashamed Hollywood – save for the wellies and picnic baskets.
But also just a tad Stepford Wives too… For as I drove into Kingston Bagpuize, couples dressed in DJs, gowns and pearls started pouring, robotically, out of rural semis like a flash flood of penguins and peacocks.
Extraordinary, yet somehow creepy too until, of course, all 600 materialised beside the coaches taking us up to London.
Then suddenly, as if by magic, they transformed into real, living, breathing villagers of the type visiting Americans only ever dream of spotting – funny, charming, eccentric, endearing and lovable.
And even more so on this occasion as almost all the village was off to party.
And what a party it proved to be, since Kingston Bagpuize is now almost certain to become part of a studio tour.
Forget being splashed by the shark from Jaws or chilled by the Bates Motel, Universal and MGM studios would be mad if they didn’t recreate a thrill ride that included the Waggon and Horses pub, the cafe in the Frosts Garden Centre at Millets, and Kingston House.
Because Tortoise In Love, a romantic comedy written and produced in and starring the Oxfordshire village, had its West End premiere on Thursday night.
Shown for the first time on the big screen at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square, complete with red carpet and paparazzi outside, the villagers were finally able to bask in the fruits of their three years of hard work, sacrifice and Women’s Institute sandwiches that enabled writer and director Guy Browning – also a Kingston Bagpuizian – to produce a multiplex movie on a garden shed budget.
Brought in at just under £180,000 instead of a more realistic budget of £3.5m, villagers clubbed together to fund it and provide costumes, hairstyling and accommodation.
It means, should the film become a ‘sleeper’ hit – industry jargon for an unexpected blockbuster – the village will doubtless soon be swimming in Michael Bays, Steven Spielbergs and James Camerons (with surgically-enhanced wives, of course).
Travelling up on Coach No. 4 (there were at least 10 forming the cinematic convoy), I found myself sat beside a villager listed simply as ‘Top Totty’ in the film credits.
‘Top Totty’ came complete, like so many of the other rural cast, with sandwiches, bottles of orange juice and crisps (Hollywood may throw A-List soirees but no-one can do picnics like Bagpuizians).
And amid all the gnashing of teeth and slurping of fruit-based beverages, we arrived two hours later in central London to an intrigued audience of foreign tourists and bemused security.
It was a glorious evening, full of the scent of Chanel, Eternity and Butterkist. Once inside, Ed Vaizey, MP for Wantage, heaped praise on Mr Browning and his extraordinary achievement, adding: “I’m a politican, so the chance to bask in other people’s work is in my DNA.”
And then the magic started – the lights dimmed, the curtains parted and Tortoise In Love flickered into life, supported by cheers, applause and a singular hiccup.
Ninety minutes later, everyone agreed it had been worth it.
There was back-slapping, hugs and, since Bagpuize is a village, plenty of over-the-wall gossip about who wore what, did it work, and who turned up with whom.
But most of all, there was joy.
Tortoise In Love is like Notting Hill, Vicar of Dibley and Passport to Pimlico all rolled into one.
It’s English, proudly so, and perfect for a country on the cusp of celebration.