Sacha Baron Cohen Film Shoot Upsets Residents of British Town
Shots from the set of spy comedy "Grimsby" see the English town portrayed as a litter-strewn dump populated by drunks and soccer hooligans.
LONDON – Never one to tiptoe away from causing offense, British comic Sacha Baron Cohen has this time upset residents of an entire British town, according to local media reports.
The latest offering from The Dictator and Bruno star, Sony’s James Bond spoof Grimsby — named after a port town in northern England — has recently been shooting in a village just outside of London, which has been made to look like a somewhat run-down version of the title location.
But locals from Grimsby haven’t been altogether amused by the aesthetic results, which have reportedly seen gardens covered in rubbish, graffiti scrawled on walls, cars on bricks and boarded up shops. Pictures that have emerged from the shoot show characters urinating out of windows, drunks passed out on benches and mothers offering cans of beer to children on the street.
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“I’ve lived here all my life. It’s an up-and-coming area, and I’m not pleased that this is the way the world will get their first and maybe only look at Grimsby,” one resident who witnessed some of the filming, including a fight scene, told local newspaper The Grimsby Telegraph. “This area has a hell of a lot going for it, and it’s disappointing to see what they’ve done.”
The film stars Mark Strong as a covert spy forced to team up with his hooligan brother, played by Baron Cohen. The comedian’s wife, Isla Fisher, is also among the cast, alongside Penelope Cruz, Rebel Wilson, Ian McShane, Gabourey Sidibe and Annabelle Wallis, with a script written by Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston and Peter Baynham. Last year, French filmmaker Louis Leterrier — who was behind last summer’s box-office success Now You See Me, also starring Fisher — was named as the surprise choice to direct.
Of course, it’s not the first time one of Baron Cohen’s creations has resulted in a few furrowed brows. His first major success, Ali G, eventually saw the fictional wannabe gangster’s real-life U.K. home of Staines officially change its name to Staines-upon-Thames as part of an attempt to boost its image after having been dealt several blows by the Ali G TV show and film.
Baron Cohen’s 2008 mockumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan came under fire following claims that it promoted intolerance toward Europe’s Roma or "gypsy" population, although the character Borat’s bigotry was in a satirical context. Despite banning the film and threatening to sue Baron Cohen for portraying the country as racist, sexist and primitive, the government of Kazakhstan later thanked the film for boosting tourism.
Alongside criticism from LGBT groups, his Austrian fashion reporter Bruno from the self-titled 2009 comedy enflamed Middle East tensions when Palestinian Ayman Abu Aita, who appeared in the film, said he was falsely portrayed as a terrorist and filed a defamation lawsuit. The case was eventually settled in 2012.
Promoting his last self-produced and written comedy, The Dictator, Baron Cohen turned up at the 2012 Academy Awards in character as Middle East despot General Aladeen and famously spilled an urn he claimed contained the ashes of Kim Jong Il onto Ryan Seacrest, later saying the former North Korean leader had told him it was his “dream to come to the Oscars and be sprinkled over the red carpet and Halle Berry’s chest again."
Shooting on Grimsby will reportedly last for six weeks in the U.K. before moving to South Africa. Residents of the British town will get to see the extent to which their home has been ridiculed when the film is released next summer.