Casting call: who will play the equine lead in new Thelwell film?

  • Cheeky, wild-haired, opinionated, much-loved ponies everywhere — your time may have come.

    The creators of a live-action film based on the beloved works of Norman Thelwell, Merrylegs the Movie, are looking for the equine star of the forthcoming feature-length film.

    Blenheim Films announced on 14 June that the work of Thelwell would be brought to life in the first instalment in a planned franchise.

    H&H asked director Candida Brady, one of the few British female directors to have been nominated for the Cannes Film Festivals Best First Film Feature accolade the Camera d’Or, what sort of pony she was looking for.

    “That’s the $20m question!” she said.

    “Thelwells aren’t a type, they’re Thelwells. It’s set in Wales so I had something with a Welsh pony stamp in mind but it’s a bit like casting children; it’s about the twinkle in their eye and their overall character.

    “I think everyone thinks of Shetland ponies in relation to Thelwells, but I think any natives or cross-breeds; anything shaggy!”

    Candy has been working with leading trainers Emma Massingale and Ben Atkinson, both “extraordinary horse whisperers, rather than trainers”, adding: “I grew up falling off horses, doing the Prince Phillip Cup and bad eventing, so I know talented horse people when I meet them, and both of them blew my mind.”

    The hunt is also on for a girl, aged seven to 10, to play lead character Penelope.

    “When casting children, you might have a set idea [of what you’re looking for], but then someone comes in and you’ll be blown away,” she said. “You know it when you see it.”

    Candy added that she is a huge Thelwell fan.

    “When I was writing the film, my son said: ‘Mum, this is what you’ve been waiting for all your life’!” she said.

    “I love all Thelwell’s work; all my horse knowledge as a child who was very asthmatic and allergic to horses came from reading Penelope and Kipper.

    “This is a huge responsibility as well; I couldn’t be a bigger fan if I tried.”

    Thelwell’s daughter Penny Jones, who inspired the main character, told H&H the casting team will be looking for a “small, fat and cheeky-looking” pony, “who’s got that sparkle”.

    “Hopefully the film will bring in a new generation to follow his work,” she said.

    “If I’m ever at an exhibition and people don’t know who I am, I love to listen to what they’re saying, especially a mother or grandmother trying to pass the information on but the name isn’t as well known as it was.

    Continues below…

    “It’s something he would have loved. He knew Nicholas Spargo, who did Willo the Wisp, and he loved it, and they made a pilot but it didn’t come to anything and he was disappointed.

    “He loved good children’s programmes like Camberwick Green and Trumpton and he’d be thrilled to know there’s a film to be made, and possible follow-ups.”

    The aim is to release the film in 2023, in what would have been Thelwell’s 100th birthday.

    Anyone interested in applying should contact Blenheim Films through its website.

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade to access our H&H Plus online service which brings you breaking news as it happens as well as other benefits.

    You may like...