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Women in Love was a very sensual film


Shooting the coal pit sequences for Women in Love
Billy Williams Film-maker
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Oliver Reed is the son of the owner of a coal mine, and we went up to Newcastle and we went down the pit, because originally there was supposed to be a sequence at the pit face with Oliver Reed cutting coal. Now we went down a pit, which was a tremendous... a great experience and we had these miners with us who were looking after us, because we went down in the shaft and then we had to walk a long way to get to the coal face, and when we got to the coal face we had to crawl on our hands and knees because there were these pit props everywhere, and there was only about 2 or 3ft in height for you to crawl up to the pit face where they'd got... it was partly mechanised with a cutter and it was partly cutting by hand. And when we got there you... you realised they're really tough conditions that these coalminers worked under. I mean it was... there was dust everywhere, it was dark and it was so... it was quite warm and there was all this physical effort that they were putting into their work. Well we went into the chances of... the possibilities of shooting at the coal face and... of course, we were soon to discover that it was going to be so difficult, because you had special... you had to use special lights that couldn't create a spark, and the space was so confined that we decided to abandon the idea of... of shooting at the coal face. Instead we found something much better.

At this old colliery we found a conveyor belt system where the coal was coming, you know, from the pit head; it had been unloaded by... in trucks and it was being sorted, and we had these wide belts going through picture with all these different lumps of... sized lumps of coal on them, and it was like a Dickensian scene. It was so dark; we just had these lights illuminating areas of... of the coal and I let other areas go off quite dark, put a bit of backlight on to make the coal shine. And Oliver Reed comes into this scene and... and there's an old man there who's having difficulty lifting a lump of coal and he kind of pushes him aside and throws the lump of coal off, and eventually the poor guy gets dismissed because Oliver Reed is a... a hard character who’s- you know, he's concerned about profit and that when people reach the end of their days, you know, they should be dismissed, whereas his father is of a much more charitable disposition and wants to take care of his workers and... So you have this transition of... of the benevolent coal miner, the owner of the coal mine, and the coal mine being taken over by this younger, aggressive man played by Oliver Reed. So we had several scenes in these old pit heads.

There was another marvellous scene where the workers are going home and we shot it late in the day, as it was getting dark. They're going home in streams of... of men, all in dark clothes and their faces covered in... in coal dust, and a locomotive goes through the shot and the smoke comes out of the locomotive. And driving in-between all these dark shadowy areas is a white Rolls Royce – a cream white Rolls... Rolls Royce to be precise – with a red leather interior, and there's the coal... the owner of the mine played by Alan Webb and Oliver Reed driving through these ranks of men who all take off their caps to them and pay their respects, and... it... it's a wonderful illustration of the divide between the hardship of... of these working people and the wealth of the pit owner in his Rolls Royce and comfort. And, you know, it says so much about those days at the beginning of the 20th century. It's set about the time of the First World War.

Billy Williams, London-born cinematographer Billy Williams gained his first two Oscar nominations for the acclaimed “Women in Love” and “On Golden Pond”. His third nomination, which was successful, was for the epic “Gandhi”. He was President of the British Society of Cinematographers, and was awarded the Camera Image Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

Listeners: Neil Binney

Neil Binney began working as a 'clapper boy' in 1946 on spin-off films from steam radio such as "Dick Barton". Between 1948-1950 he served as a Royal Air Force photographer. From 1950 he was a Technicolor assistant technician working on films such as John Ford's "Mogambo" (photographed by Freddie Young), Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Bob Burke), and Visconti's "Senso" (G.R. Aldo/B. Cracker). As a camera assistant he worked on "Mind Benders", "Billy Liar" and "This Sporting Life". Niel Binney became a camera operator in 1963 and worked with, among others, Jack Cardiff, Fred Tammes and Billy Williams. He was elected associate member of the British Society of Cinematographers in 1981 and his most recent credits include "A Fish Called Wanda" and "Fierce Creatures".

Duration: 4 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008