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Sir Sean Connery IS Sir Billi in his last official film appearance

By: Brian Smith
Published:
2013-09-11
From Sweden with Love was invited to a private screening of Sir Billi held at the Grosvenor Cinema, Ashton Lane in the West End of Glasgow on Thursday, September 5. FSWL’s man in Scotland, Brian James Smith, reports.

Sir Blli Sean Connery film
Friends, family, cast & crew and the media descended on a quiet corner of Glasgow’s West End to celebrate the release of Sir Billi, Scotland’s first animated feature film and starring the legendary Sir Sean Connery.

Sir Blli Sean Connery film
By the time Dame Shirley Bassey performs the title song – Guardian of the Highlands - and Sir Sean Connery delivers his opening monologue, the hairs on the back of your neck will be standing on end.

There is real artistry at work here, especially in the landscapes and backgrounds. Richly detailed and layered, the camera movement is as fluid as anything you would expect from a modern live-action motion picture. The rendering of the characters gives this film a fresh and unique feel.

The film sees the directorial debut of Sascha Hartmann. His wife Tessa wrote the screenplay and together they produced it with Sir Sean Connery having set up Glasgow Animation Ltd in 2000. With other family members involved it is clear that the Hartmanns have an abundance of talent and hope that this first foray into motion pictures will not be their last.

Tessa Sascha Hartmann Sir Billi
Co-producer John Fortune Fraser said, “With a budget of 9.5 million GBP, it’s a huge investment for any new business but it’s still a drop in the ocean to what the major animation studios invest – some up to several hundred million dollars per film.”

Indeed, this is not Disney Pixar – as Tessa Hartmann noted in an interview for AMFM Magazine: “I don’t have 200 million USD dollars to put into a film. But I do expect to stand alongside the giants of animation with a really decent product.” However, even at 9.5 million GBP, this is a production that punches well above its weight. The film boasts a music score by Oscar-nominated Patrick Doyle, editing by Steven Weisberg (whose resumé includes ‘Men In Black II’ and one of the Harry Potters) and a cast that includes Alan Cumming, Ruby Wax, Miriam Margolyes, Alex Norton plus Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan proving they are still game as a pair of highland bobbies. Sascha has written several songs for the film, including the aforementioned DSB title song and two performed by their daughter – the teen singing sensation Tallia Storm. The pivotal role of Bessie Boo, the last beaver in Scotland, is voiced by their other daughter Tessie Valentina Hartmann.

Tessa Sascha Hartmann Tallia Storm
The one thing that is going to get visitors to From Sweden with Love salivating are the number of James Bond references! Sir Billi is a unique character which Sir Sean has brought to life and he has a lot of fun with. It would seem that with this, what will probably be his final film (unless there is a ‘Sir Billi 2’!) he has made peace with the character that has been a part of his life for over 50 years. The references span the entire 007 series, not just the early Connery films, and work brilliantly. For people who are unfamiliar with the Bond films they certainly don’t look shoe-horned in - they still work well as part of the narrative. For Bond fans the fun will be spotting all the references and this serves to add an additional layer of enjoyment.

To echo Sir Sean’s opening comments, this movie is a rare treat!

Following the screening FSWL spoke to director Sascha Hartmann and his daughter Tessie, credited as Valentina Hartmann, who plays Bessie Boo.

Tessie Valentina Hartmann Sir Blli film
As well as directing this wonderful movie you also wrote the title song. How did that come about?
Sascha Hartmann – The thing about this title song was I had a vision and thought at the end the day if we’ve got Sean Connery involved then we need to have the lady! You go back to ‘Goldfinger’, you go back to the ‘Diamonds’ era, the amazing thing was, and Sean told me this on several occasions, that Broccoli and Saltzman were worried about their main themes. When we approached Shirley we [said] if we play you a song will you be interested? She said, “Not really, because if I don’t like the song I’m not doing it!” Which is fair enough!

At this point had you already written the song?
SH – We’ve done it! I’ve done it on the basis of Shirley, so every single time I was writing it I heard her and the amazing thing was I had written in her key. So eventually she came back and said, “I’ve been living with that song for months in my car. I’ve been rehearsing and I love it!” From that moment on we were glued together! So we did our rehearsals for two days and she was perfect from the start. We went into the recording studios on the third day. The first take was so brilliant that we did the second take just for the sake of it.

And Tessie…
Tessie Valentina Hartmann – I was Bessie Boo the beaver! It was still challenging for me because I was up against twenty five other girls. I had to do a lot of practising and different voices to try and be the perfect young little beaver. It was a great experience.
SH – The biggest challenge was when she [Bessie Boo] was in the water. The poor girl, we actually ...

Did you dunk her?
SH – No, no, no! But she had to have water and this was the hardest thing because I was worried about my girl choking!

I could talk for hours about this film. The in-jokes and references – Alan Cumming, who was in GoldenEye (1995), does the bungee jump off the dam, the car chase is a mix of Goldfinger (1964) and GoldenEye, the parachute jump, on top of the Land Rover, the five notes from the Thunderball (1965) soundtrack….
TVH – … all the posters…

… in the bus shelter…
SH – and the Deux Chevaux Citroën!
TVH – Every Sunday we have a movie night and we watch every James Bond film.

And which is your favourite?
TVH – ‘Goldfinger’.
SH – That’s my girl!

Do you like the Craig films?
TVH – They’re great. I like Skyfall (2012). I love Pierce Brosnan but I prefer Connery.
SH – The amazing thing in this film is, apart from an homage to Scotland with Sir Sean, at the end of the day there’s never been an animated Bond film so it was clear to me that we had to have wee bits that only the Bond aficionados would actually get.

Sir Billi is released on cinemas on September 13 and is available on DVD from September 16.

Written by Brian James Smith. Copyright © 2013 From Sweden with Love.

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