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Conservationists Aren’t Happy About New Spielberg Production Near Stonehenge

Ian Harvey

Steven Spielberg is famous for the hit films he’s created throughout the course of his working life. He’s about to embark on a project that might end up as another blockbuster, but he’s hit an unexpected speed bump in the development process, according to Artnet News.

The film is a first world war epic called 1917, and Spielberg and director Sam Mendes have sought permission to film for several weeks on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England.

If the name Salisbury Plain sounds familiar to you, it’s because the area is also the home of one of England’s most famous early monuments: Stonehenge.

Stonehenge sunset landscape

Stonehenge sunset landscape

The area that the filmmakers want to use for shooting their movie is located about six miles away from the famous henge, but local conservationists are concerned that set construction has the chance of damaging ancient artifacts in the vicinity that remain undiscovered.

Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment, approached Wiltshire Council’s planning department and asked permission to film for about nine months on Salisbury Plain, of which a large chunk is already designated for military training purposes, according to the Guardian.

Steven Spielberg speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California. Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 3.0

Steven Spielberg speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California. Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 3.0

Among other things, the application requested permission to construct sets, including a network of trenches and a replica French farmhouse, as well as using the surrounding area for necessary support services for the approximately 500 people who would be involved in the filming process.

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The director of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, David Dawson, expressed concern over the request. He has made a point of saying that, while the society supports the film, he still feels it’s necessary to get an expert assessment of the site before the production company starts building anything.

Long shadows from the early morning sun at Stonehenge

Long shadows from the early morning sun at Stonehenge

He notes that the procedure for building a film set shouldn’t be any different than the procedure for building any other sort of planned structure near an archaeological site.

Wiltshire Council should be making its determination very soon about whether or not to allow the studio the permissions it needs. A spokeswoman for the council made a statement to the effect that the council needs to ensure that an archaeological assessment happens prior to even temporary development, as a means of protecting their archaeological heritage from any possible damage.

Photograph of Stonehenge at the sunset

Photograph of Stonehenge at the sunset

It may be that there are as-yet-undiscovered remains that have been hidden because of cultivation, lack of access, or being covered by vegetation.

The council’s department of landscape and design has its own worries about the request, noting that the area in question is the habitat for several protected species, ranging from butterflies to badgers. There are also areas immediately adjacent to the land in question that have been declared “priority habitat” calcareous grassland.

Stonehenge closeup

Stonehenge closeup

The Wiltshire Museum has said it’s amenable to the studio coming in for filming if the site is protected; however, some locals are concerned over the increased traffic filming would inevitably bring.

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Waiting on the council’s determination has already begun to delay the project, as the construction of the farmhouse set was due to begin in early February and filming is scheduled to start late in April.