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How This Cromwell Survived the Axe

Not a single penny of public funds has gone into the making of a major film about one of the most fascinating and bloody periods in British history -- the Civil War, which divided the country and cost a king his head.

Filmmaker Mike Barker, who has been directing a movie called Cromwell and Fairfax, told me: "We got nothing from the Film Council or lottery funds." Barker seems more intrigued than angry at the snub.

The £14.5 million film, starring Tim Roth, Dougray Scott and Olivia Williams has financial woes and at one point had to shut down.

If it hadn't been for the cast and crew's extraordinary dedication to Barker -- they voted to work without pay until money was found -- and individual acts of generosity (Scott, also an associate producer, stumped up £60,000) the film would have been, like Charles I, axed.

"It's a bit of a mystery," producer Kevin Loader said, about the Film Council's reluctance to loosen its purse strings.

Roth plays Oliver Cromwell, the black-hearted Puritan who wanted subjects to be citizens.

Scott is Thomas Fairfax, a nobleman who was Lord General of the New Model Army and Cromwell's friend -- until they fell out over what to do with Charles the First, played by Rupert Everett.

And Williams, one of our most in-demand actresses, is the formidable Lady Anne Fairfax, who would rather her husband be at home making babies than out making war.

The film has been shooting on locations at Hampton Court and Oxford -- where Barker used Convocation Hall beneath the Bodleian Library as a stand-in for Westminster Hall.

Roth told me: "I don't remember much about this from school -- in fact I don't remember much about anything from school -- but it has been fascinating getting into the history of all this."

The actor, who spends most of his time in California said: "At one time I thought I would return to live in Britain. But now I'm ambivalent. It's sad to see what has happened to the Labour Party."

Some working on the film see modern-day parallels between Cromwell and Fairfax, and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. But Scott is reminded more of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

The actor, who starred recently in Enigma, has been pushing to make the film for several years.

"Fairfax was a brilliant tactician who even used his rose garden to help him win wars," he said of his character.

"He planted rose bushes in battle formations around his estate at Nun Appleton in Yorkshire.

"He was a soldier who cared about his men, ensured they were properly clothed and paid -- but he could be ruthless.

"If someone blasphemed in his regiment, he had no qualms about putting a red hot iron pole through their tongue," Dougray told me as he fiddled with his hair extensions.

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