‘Bittersweet comedy’ film Downhill proves far from a walk in the park for actor Richard Lumsden
- Credit: Alex Melman
A group of men crossing England from coast to coast doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of laughs, but a new British film manages to be both big-hearted and very funny.
Downhill concerns a quartet of school friends who reunite after 30 years and confront their personal demons during the 192-mile walk from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire.
East Finchley actor Richard Lumsden, who plays one of the lead characters, says: “It seems to have really touched a nerve with audiences.
“I think it’s quite hard to make a small film look quite big, but the director does a really good job.
“I hope it doesn’t just appeal to middle-aged men, though,” he adds. “It would be such a dreadful audience if it was just us!”
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The 49-year-old, whose previous screenwork includes The Avengers, Sightseers and The Catherine Tate Show, is exceedingly proud of Downhill, whose success has relied so far on word-of-mouth.
The “bittersweet comedy” low-budget film has made quite an impact, enjoying a two-week stint at Leicester Square and now showing at cinemas in the north of England.
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Asked whether he really trekked across rolling, green moors or did the three-week shoot take place off a motorway outside London, Lumsden bursts into peals of laughter. “We actually did the walk four times over!” He insists. “We shot in sequence all the way across the UK and had to keep going back and doing bits again.
“It was amazing to see how the country changes as you travel from west to east, with the big Lake District hills and the lovely, bleak Yorkshire moors – it’s a real visual treat.”
Lumsden insists the film’s charm lies in the make do and mend nature of the brief shoot.
“One of the lovely things was that there were no luxuries and I adore that – there was no messing about.
“We carried all our clothes in rucksacks and stopped at little hotels and b&bs around the country.”
‘It’s just an excuse for a massive piss-up’ is a memorable line from the film, to which Lumsden’s character Gordon replies furiously, ‘It’s hardcore hiking – people die up there!’ But did life imitate art on set?
“There are a lot of drunken scenes in the film but obviously we can’t drink on the job!”
He concedes: “It was very pleasant, though, at the end of the day to be able to put your damp socks over the radiator and open a bottle of wine together.”
Lumsden decided he wanted to be an actor at the tender age of 15 and is now at the heart of a network of thesps, married to Sophie Thompson with West Hampstead actors Emma Thompson and Greg Wise his sister and brother-in-law and Phyllida Law his mother-in-law
“I’m from the Peak District in Derbyshire – no-one acted up there! You were sort of an outcast if that was what you wanted to do. But I went to drama school anyway and pretty much started working in television straight away.”
For someone who has graced the silver screen with the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, Lumsden remains outstandingly modest about his long career.
“It’s a succession of good luck and bad luck really, some things go your way and some things don’t. You ride the luck when you have it and you push through when you don’t.”
He also cites James Rouse, Downhill’s director, as one of his biggest influences in the industry.
“I think he’s a genius. He has a total understanding of both comedy and drama – he likes the scene to be able to break your heart and then make you laugh the next second. For me, that’s one of the greatest pleasures of Downhill.”
The actor has two sons, was delighted wife Sophie had made it through to the semi-final of Celebrity Masterchef (“We’re thrilled about it!”).
So are sons Walt, who attends Fortismere School in Muswell Hill, and Ernie, at Highgate Wood School in Crouch End, planning to follow in their parents’ footsteps?
“Acting? No, not at all, not in the slightest,” he says cheerfully.
Visit downhill-the-movie.com for more information.