A Hollywood science fiction thriller released today and already receiving rave reviews, was partially shot at a former Cold War military base in Oxfordshire.
Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, was released in America by Paramount Pictures last month, but British viewers now have the chance to see it on Netflix.
Atmospheric scenes in the movie were shot over three days at Upper Heyford, a military airfield used in both World Wars and which has been partly preserved as a Scheduled Monument – the same protection afforded to York Minster.
In order for the film cameras to roll however, specialist consent was needed and Heyford Park owners turned to planning, design and heritage consultants Pegasus Group.
Alex Robinson, a heritage planner with Pegasus, takes up the story: “It was back in the summer of 2016 that as part of our ongoing advice as retained planning and heritage consultants to Heyford Park owner the Dorchester Group, we applied for use of the base’s bomb bays and surrounding land and secured Scheduled Monument Consent.
“The project involved close liaison between our client, Historic England, on site set designers and location managers to ensure that temporary works were fully reversible and had no lasting impact on the Scheduled Monuments.”
The temporary works included covering roadways with gravel, mud and bark; putting up fake fences and guard towers; and covering old bomb storage buildings with mould like substances.
Alex added: “Pegasus Group has a really good working relationship with Historic England, because we understand and appreciate the conditions and criteria put on consent. In this case, it was a question of achieving the movie makers’ vision of an abandoned military base with a sci fi twist, while ensuring the ‘set’ could be totally reversed when the crew moved out.
“Negotiation and dialogue was definitely key to the success of this project.”
Back in the 1970s, Heyford Park was inhabited by 15,000 American servicemen and was the largest airfield in Europe. It has appeared in many TV and film productions including Octopussy, Lewis and Muppets Most Wanted. The third series of cult TV show Humans will feature the abandoned air base.
Annihilation is written and directed by Alex Garland and based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. It tells the story of a group of scientists on a secret mission. The trailer features footage shot at Heyford Park. View it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89OP78l9oF0