Morris: A Life with Bells On

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Morris: A Life with Bells On
Morris a life with bells on poster.jpg
Original film poster
Directed byLucy Akhurst
Produced byCharles Thomas Oldham
Lucy Akhurst
Written byCharles Thomas Oldham
StarringCharles Thomas Oldham
Ian Hart
Derek Jacobi
Dominique Pinon
Greg Wise
Naomie Harris
Aidan McArdle
Sophie Thompson
Harriet Walter
Music byRichard Lumsden
CinematographyRoger Chapman
Edited byNick Carew
Release date
  • 27 September 2009 (2009-09-27)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Morris: A Life with Bells On is a 2009 British independent film, a comic spoof documentary about morris dancing.



Morris: A Life with Bells On was written by Charles Thomas Oldham (known as Chaz Oldham), who also co-produced it with his wife, the film's director Lucy Akhurst.[10] The film's production company was Twist Films, set up by Oldham and Akhurst.

Oldham spent his later teen years living with a family who were keen morris dancers, and he realised that the English folk dance and its traditions were a rich subject for a film. He went on to qualify as a lawyer but turned to acting and writing. He gradually developed the script of Morris: A Life with Bells On, and drew up a wish-list of actors he would like to have in the film.


Although a low-budget film - it cost a total of £500,000[11] to make - Oldham was successful in fulfilling his wish-list and the film features some well-known actors including Derek Jacobi, Ian Hart, Dominique Pinon, Greg Wise, Harriet Walter, Naomie Harris and Sophie Thompson. Oldham plays the lead role and Akhurst also appears in the film. A number of real-life morris sides were used as extras in the filming.

The film was shot in London and parts of south west England in the summer of 2007,[12] one of the wettest on record up to that date. Filming locations were predominantly in the West Country counties of Dorset and Wiltshire, and included Sandbanks beach in Dorset (doubling with the addition of a few palm trees as Los Angeles' Venice Beach),[13] Poole in Dorset[12] and Tisbury in Wiltshire.[14] The Compasses Inn at Lower Chicksgrove in Wiltshire served as the Traveller's Staff pub, and the climax of the film was shot at Wimborne Folk Festival at Wimborne in Dorset.

Release and reception[edit]

The film struggled to find a widespread distribution deal, as distributors felt it was too niche in its appeal to be profitable. Oldham and Akhurst organised a tour of village halls throughout the West Country from January to March 2009,[15] in local venues such as village halls.[16] Moviola, a company and registered charity that specialises in such local screenings, showed the film.[17] The film became a word-of-mouth hit through this route, and allowed Oldham and Akhurst to bypass the distributors and go directly to the exhibitors,[18] bolstered by an internet petition.[16][19]

In May 2009 the film had its international premiere at the 35th Seattle International Film Festival, where it was awarded joint third place in the Golden Space Needle Audience Award for best film.[20][21]

The film had its British premiere at the Prince Charles Cinema in London on 24 September 2009[22] and was released in a few cinemas in the Picturehouse chain on 27 September 2009. Although it had a limited release, on its opening day it had a higher take per screen than the studio-backed big budget film The Soloist.[18]

Reviews were generally positive. In an article in The Times, director Ken Russell (another director renowned for filming in the West Country) considered that the film was "a sophisticated faux-naive film that combines the style of the style of Best in Show, The Full Monty, Zoolander and Babe ... Oldham has managed to walk that tightrope between irony and sincerity and come down squarely on the side of heart."[23] Jonathan Brown of The Independent considered that "shot in mockumentary style that evokes The Office and This is Spinal Tap, A Life with Bells On is an affectionate if uncompromisingly comic examination of this most peculiar of English traditions",[11] while Jon Swaine of The Daily Telegraph called it "a cult hit".[16] Giving it two stars out of five, Xan Brooks in The Guardian wrote that "At times its gentle, nuzzling brand of comedy is akin to being gummed by a sheep. And yet Akhurst and Oldham's tale is obviously heartfelt and frequently charming".[24]

Rotten Tomatoes rates the film at "55% of the audience liked it", based on 38 user ratings. The Rotten Tomatoes rating does not include any critics' reviews.[25]

Part of the publicity for the film included a spoof audition tape for the lead role by Simon Pegg, and a spoof video diary by American actor Sendhil Ramamurthy from the television series Heroes.[26] The film was released on DVD on 26 July 2010. The soundtrack composed by Richard Lumsden is also available.


  1. ^ The character's unusual first name, a French surname, is used instead of Derek.
  2. ^ The character's unusual first name may be a reference to Inspector Morse; the middle name is a play on a placename, Hungerford in Berkshire, combined with fjord.
  3. ^ The character's name is the full name of the 17th-century French playwright better known as Molière.
  4. ^ The character's surname is a reference to the Château de Villandry, on the banks of the Loire.
  5. ^ The character's name is a reference to the south Wiltshire village of Compton Chamberlayne, which is close to several of the filming locations used in the film.
  6. ^ The character's first name may be another placename reference (see e.g. Preston, Lancashire); as a given name it is probably more common in North America than the UK.
  7. ^ The character's surname may be another placename reference (see Staveley).
  8. ^ The character's name is a reference to the Lincolnshire village of Boothby Pagnell.
  9. ^ The character's first name is also a placename shared by several Wiltshire villages close to Swindon, including Lydiard Tregoze; Sperling is a surname of Jewish origin.
  10. ^ Lucy Akhurst (17 January 2009). "I thought Morris dancing was weird ... Now I know it's the most fun you can have with bells on". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  11. ^ a b Jonathan Brown (21 September 2009). "Hell's bells! The joy of Morris Dancing". The Independent. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  12. ^ a b Nick Churchill (28 May 2010). "Venice Beach? No, it's Sandbanks". Bournemouth Daily Echo (see the video for information). Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  13. ^ Andy Davey (30 May 2007). "Location! Location! Location!". Bournemouth Daily Echo. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
  14. ^ Mike Turner (13 February 2009). "With bells on! Salisbury basketball players' role in Morris dancing movie". Salisbury Journal. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  15. ^ Press release available on the Morris: A Life with Bells On website under "Moviola" in the Additional Media section.
  16. ^ a b c Jon Swaine (5 February 2009). "Morris dancing film becomes cult hit". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  17. ^ "Morris: a Life with Bells on". Moviola. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  18. ^ a b Xan Brooks (1 October 2009). "The DIY films that vanish without trace". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  19. ^ Olivia Laing (15 February 2009). "Stick up for morris men". The Observer. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  20. ^ "Morris Dancers Invade Seattle". PR Log. 14 May 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  21. ^ Gregg Kilday (14 June 2009). "Seattle fest announces winners". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 18 June 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  22. ^ "Morris: A Life With Bells On - UK Film Premiere". Zimbio. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  23. ^ Ken Russell (29 August 2009). "Dancers armed with staves are poised to storm the box office". The Times. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  24. ^ Xan Brooks (25 September 2009). "Morris: A Life With Bells On". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Rejected by film makers: Simon Pegg and Sendhil Ramamurthy audition tapes discovered!". Unreality Shout. Retrieved 2010-07-05.

External links[edit]