Written by Shona Smith on Sep 16, 2020. Posted in On Location

The Singapore Grip filmed entirely on location in South East Asia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia doubled as Singapore for the adaptation of JG Farrell’s 1978 novel set during the period of the battle of Singapore in World War II. The miniseries was written and adapted by Oscar winner Christopher Hampton (Atonement, Dangerous Liasons) who was present on set during the filming in Malaysia.

The series centres on the fates of wealthy British families in the war in which the British surrendered the region to Japan. Luke Treadaway (Attack the Block, Fortitude), David Morrissey (Good Omens, The Missing), Jane Horrocks (Little Princess, Claude), Colm Meaney (Tolkien, Gangs of London) and Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, Imitation Game), Elizabeth Tan (Doctor Who, Top Boy) and Georgia Blizzard (Thor: Ragnorok) star in the Mammoth Screen adaptation for ITV.

Producer Farah Abushwesha notes explains “this is a period drama set midway through World War II about the Japanese invasion of Singapore which created Malaysia and Indonesia as they stand today. This whole region was a part of colonialist culture and this story is about the fall of colonialism. But none of those houses now exist in Singapore. Singapore is now so built up. It’s a tiny island and they have used every available space. They have even built into the sea. A lot of the old structures featured in the novel like Beach Road are now several kilometres inland so you wouldn’t be able to film what we’ve been able to in Malaysia. It gives us this colonial feel. Malaysia gave us options that I don’t think anywhere else in the region would”.

Some of the key locations were these colonial homes of families like the Blacketts who run a rubber business. The location used for the Blacketts house was the former residence of the British High Commission and where independence was declared in 1956. After independence it has been a hotel and a restaurant. Elsewhere in the Malaysian capital, a dilapidated building in the dock served for Walter Blackkets liquor warehouse.

Writer Hampton describes filming spectacular scenes on location in Malaysia. “There’s a sort of ghost town not far from Kuala Lumpur airport. They ran out of money about 20 years ago and it’s just been abandoned so we were able to do what we liked there. There’s a scene where there is a huge explosion in the upstairs of a shop. It was pretty spectacular to watch. Obviously, we also depend a certain amount on CGI but we did do a lot of it live”.

Historical accuracy was an important factor while shooting. Military advisors were used in Malaysia and real vintage planes sourced from a military museum in Kuala Lumpur were supplemented in post-production.

An animal behaviourist to make sure that the animals were not in distress and that they were treated properly and that they weren’t on set for too long. “One thing that people don’t know about Malaysia is that it has some of the strictest laws pertaining to animal welfare. They have a lot of sanctuaries. The only monkey we were able to use was a coconut picking macaque” says Abushwesha.

Malaysia has a hot and humid climate, with temperatures reaching 35C on a regular basis during filming which poses challenges to the cast. Charles Dance who plays the role of Mr Webb has some advice about working in the tropical heat: “I’ve worked in India and South Africa in the summer, but Kuala Lumpur was serious heat. The trick is to turn off the air conditioning so that you don’t keep getting hot and then cold. Your body has to take it in. Unfortunately, when you have to look reasonably presentable you do have to depend on the air conditioning though. The other trick is to walk very, very slowly”.

Malaysia provides a 30% cash rebate on all qualifying Malaysian Production Expenditure (QMPE). Television series must spend a minimum of MYR385,000 (GBP72,000) per hour to qualify.

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