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De Beauvoir Estate makes "strangely beautiful" backdrop to Alec Newman's film Greyhawk

PUBLISHED: 17:17 18 June 2014

Alec Newman plays Mal in Greyhawk.

Alec Newman plays Mal in Greyhawk.

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A film shot entirely on location on the De Beauvoir Estate has been hailed by national charity Blind Veterans UK for its "impressive and worryingly accurate" portrayal of life as a vision-impaired ex-soldier.

Alec Newman plays Mal in Greyhawk.Alec Newman plays Mal in Greyhawk.

Greyhawk, which stars Waterloo Road actor Alec Newman, tells the story of Mal, a blinded former soldier who is forced to explore the estate off Downham Road to search for his beloved missing dog.

Before filming began, the 39-year-old Scot, who now lives in Finsbury Park, spent two “unforgettable” days at Blind Veterans UK’s centre in Llandudno, North Wales, where he shadowed Billy Baxter, a former British Army staff sergeant who became blind due to a virus he caught whilst exhuming bodies in Bosnia.

Alec said: “They bundled me in a car at the station and blindfolded me. It was almost like I was being kidnapped. I hadn’t really considered the concept of sight-loss too much, which was one of the reasons why the script for Greyhawk had such an impact on me, and the time I spent with the ex-servicemen really drove home to me how difficult life becomes when you lose your sight.

“There is no real middle ground, particularly if you become totally blind – it really is as drastic as putting on a blindfold and trying to live your life without your eyes.”

Alec Newman plays Mal in Greyhawk.Alec Newman plays Mal in Greyhawk.

Alec was able to watch and imitate how Billy coped with navigating unfamiliar indoor and outdoor spaces, learning how to use a cane for the first time and how to use gadgets designed to help blind people prepare meals.

The experience was invaluable to him in helping him figure out how a blind person’s brain functions.

“Matt Pitt and Guy Pitt [the director and producer] were aware it might be controversial to use a seeing actor in a blind part in the times we live in. Because of that I knew I had to do a more than convincing job at playing blind,” said Alec.

“Rather than talking about it I experienced it. It’s difficult to describe the way your brain responds to not being able to see.

“People say your hearing improves. That’s not true but because your brain registers you can’t see anything it will tune into your hearing more.

“I hope people don’t just think, ‘He’s doing quite a good job at being blind,’ I think when you watch it you forget about his blindness, the character has to exist as a man.”

Alec said he found Billy to be one of the “most joyful and happy men” he had ever met.

“Obviously he had an initial period of great depression that his life had been turned upside down when he became blind, he’s been through the most horrific situations in war,” he said. “But when he came out the other side, he’s working with blind men and women now, and he’s just become the town crier in Llandudno. He’s very joyful and grateful for all the other senses he has.”

Alec said he found the De Beauvoir Estate, where they spent three weeks filming in February, made a great backdrop to the film which he found a “great joy” to work on, casting off the “relative shackles” of TV work.

“The estate is strangely beautiful, lots of straight lines and rows of flats,” he said.

“We ended up posting up a few leaflets through real doors so apologies to anyone who received a leaflet for a missing dog.”

n The film will be screened in the Rio Cinema, Kingsland High Street, Dalston, on Sunday, June 22, at 3.30pm.

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