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MV Balmoral gets role in Black Cake

Images courtesy of Bristol Film Office

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MV Balmoral gets role in Black Cake

Bristol locations facilitated by the city’s Film Office played an important role in the making of major new drama Black Cake…

The movie is now available to stream on Disney+ in the UK, following its premiere on 31st January. An adaptation of Charmaine Wilkerson’s best-selling novel of the same name, Black Cake is a family drama wrapped in a murder mystery with a diverse cast of characters and a global setting, from Marissa Jo Cerar, Harpo Films, and Aaron Kaplan’s Kapital Entertainment.

The eight-episode series stars Mia Isaac, Adrienne Warren, Chipo Chung, Ashley Thomas, Lashay Anderson, Faith Alabi and Glynn Turman, as well as recurring guest stars Ahmed Eljah, Simon Wan, and Sonita Henry.

The story spans decades and continents, taking place in Jamaica, Italy, Scotland, England, and Southern California. Much of the filming for the eight-episode series took place in Wales where the production was based, and its makers headed to nearby Bristol to source locations for two important settings.

Laura Aviles, Head of Film, Bristol City Council:

“Bristol’s preserved quayside is consistently popular with film and TV productions seeking period dockside settings, with its unique combination of working cranes, steam railway, transit shed and, of course, the superb 1940’s MV Balmoral. From enquiry through to shoot, Bristol Film Office liaises closely with the MShed, Cranes and Balmoral teams, making sure everything is in place for filming to run smoothly.

“The fact that Black Cake carried out not one, but two large-scale outdoor shoots in Bristol really shows the confidence productions have in the Film Office and the fact that Bristol can suit all kinds of international location needs. The business this brings in is great news for our film industry and wider economy.”

Black Cake filming London 70’s market on Frog Lane Bristol (image: Bristol Film Office)

=Bristol Film Office worked closely with the production team and Council departments to close a section of Princes Wharf for five days in September 2022, in preparation for a night’s filming on the Harbourside outside MShed. The Wharf was transformed into Jamaica’s Port Royal Harbour in the 1970’s, with Bristol’s famous vintage ship MV Balmoral taking centre stage on the docks, playing the part of a Windrush vessel departing Jamaica to ferry passengers to England. Lighting equipment was lifted onto the MShed roof with the help of the Cranes team, to illuminate the set.

The production returned to Bristol to film further scenes in October 2022, when Frog Lane near Park Street was transformed into a bustling festive 1970’s London market complete with stalls selling Christmas trees and mistletoe, a vintage red Routemaster bus destined for ‘Tower Hill’ and large numbers of supporting artists. Bristol filming also took place at the University of Bristol’s Clifton Hill House, the former Lloyds Bank building and Clifton’s Wellington Terrace. Further afield in the West of England, filming also took place in Bridgwater, Somerset.

In the late 1960s, a runaway bride named Covey disappears into the surf off the coast of Jamaica and is feared drowned or a fugitive on the run for her husband’s murder. In present day California, a widow named Eleanor Bennett, loses her battle with cancer, leaving her two estranged children, Byron and Benny, a flash drive that holds previously untold stories of her journey from the Caribbean to America. These stories, narrated by Eleanor, shock her children and challenge everything they thought they knew about their family’s origin.

Black Cake BTS – Port Royal Harbour Jamaica on Princes Wharf-Bristol (image credit @bristol_filming via Bristol Film Office)

From Charmaine Wilkerson’s best-selling novel Black Cake, Marissa Jo Cerar serves as showrunner and executive producer. The series is executive produced by Aaron Kaplan, Carla Gardini, Brian Morewitz, Charmaine Wilkerson, and Michael Lohmann. Black Cake is a Two Drifters, Harpo Films, and Kapital Entertainment production. The series is also produced by ABC Signature.

Other film settings that Princes Wharf and MV Balmoral have provided the backdrop for include Ireland’s Cobh Harbour in Stan & Ollie (2018), Weymouth Docks in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) and Jersey’s St Helier Harbour in Another Mother’s Son (2017).

Ben Mangham, Black Cake’s Supervising Location Manager:

“Bristol Film Office and the Balmoral team led by Rob Skuse immediately understood the brief and were invaluable in bringing Port Royal Harbour to Princes Wharf Bristol. Although the fabulous MV Balmoral is not quite an Atlantic crossing Windrush vessel of the time, it is a beautiful period-correct ship with a hugely experienced (mostly volunteer) team less than one hour from our studio. 

“The Dock with its impressive cargo cranes of yesteryear (operational still) and the sleek lines of MV Balmoral combined wonderfully with the design team’s Jamaican dock set dressing – for a brief moment, a small part of Bristol docks was transformed into a busy embarkation point for islanders starting their journey to Britain. The Balmoral Trust are becoming experts in film production with quite an impressive list of credits to date. It was a pleasure to work with Rob and his team and we are pleased that our donation will help keep MV Balmoral doing what she does best – educating the children of today and reminding us all of a time when travel was stylish, elegant and fun.”  

Black Cake is available now on Disney+ in the UK.

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