Bangalow is set to shine on the big screen in a new film starring Australian actress Radha Mitchell, writes Angela Saurine.
When Blake Northfield read the script for Take My Hand, he instantly knew it was something he wanted to be involved in. Not only did he find himself extremely moved by the true love story, but he also knew he’d be able to film it in his local area and drop his daughter off at Bangalow Public School before work – a rare treat for a globetrotting film producer.
The movie, which was shot in Bangalow and surrounding areas between November 2022 and June 2023 stars former Neighbours actress Radha Mitchell, who has also been in movies including Rogue, Surrogates and Finding Neverland. She plays Laura, a vibrant young Australian woman who has forged a successful career in London and seemingly has the perfect marriage. But her world is turned upside down when she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and her husband starts to show his true colours. When a tragic accident leaves her a widowed mother with three sons, she returns home and is reunited with her old school friend Michael — a divorcee who has loved Laura since they were teenagers. The story is based on writer-director John Raftopolous’ own relationship with Claire Jensz, who is the film’s executive producer. It was shot in locations including Bangalow’s main street, local homes, Victoria’s At Ewingsdale, Baz & Shaz Fruit and Veg at Suffolk Park, Myocum, Byron Bay, Federal, Knockrow and Billinudgel.
The first Blake heard of the project was when his lawyer called him to ask if he could provide some advice to a director who had recently moved to Los Angeles and was getting a film up. “John was previously based in Byron Bay and he and Claire co-own Zephyr Horses,” Blake says. “In the middle of building his home he had moved over to Hollywood to give it a good crack.” A few months later, Blake got back in touch to see how his film was progressing. “The call led to John sending the script through for my team and I to look at. When we read it we realised we could shoot the film here with a small shoot in London, so we called him to tell him to come home. He and Claire were on a flight back within the week and we kicked off the development process. The film is based on Claire’s incredible story. She’s an inspirational woman and so her journey and their love story on the side is like the icing on the cake. The story is full of hope, resilience and a never-give-up attitude. It was impossible to not be attracted to it.”
Blake grew up in the region and moved to Sydney after leaving school. He worked in shows including Home and Away, Please Like Me and The Story of Us before cofounding Bronte Pictures. When his partner Niah fell pregnant with their first child, they moved back home to be closer to family and friends, living in Bangalow before recently relocating to Ewingsdale.
“It was such a pinch myself moment personally to be able to shoot in Bangalow,” Blake says. “The script is set between a country town in Australia and London. Not only does the Northern Rivers offer a variety of small towns that can be kind of ‘cheated’ as one another, it also offers some real estate and settings that can be used to portray countryside London. Bangalow’s main street, early morning with the mist and before the traffic hits feels the same as it did 20 years ago. It’s a place of undeniable charm and offers audiences a feeling of escapism.”
Convenience was also a key factor. “At one stage we had unit base set up in the Showgrounds behind the primary school,” Blake says. “To have my kids be able to come to my work, have breakfast with them on the set and then walk my daughter, Matilda, over to school is a memory I’ll always cherish. Being able to use family and friends’ houses to honour such a beautiful story working with locals and trying to bring as many into the film as possible — it was all such a positive experience.” While many of the crew were local, Blake says those who came from interstate and the cast fell in love with Bangalow.
The film, which also features actress and singer Natalie Bassingthwaighte, is now in the final editing stage and is set to be released next year. “It will screen at all cinemas in the area, and we’ll be hosting a local premiere,” Blake says. “If the timing works with the Bangalow Film Festival that’d be fantastic, though I believe it’s at the start of each year, so it may not be possible.”
Featured image: Radha Mitchell shooting Take My Hand in Bangalow Photo Tom Paul Byrnes TPB Photography