The first days of filming for the mowing in Anna Karenina took place this week. Thirty mowers and haymakers from around the country were brought together with their scythes to create the scenes where Levin joins a large team of Russian mowers cutting and making hay.
I arrived on Tuesday and set up a workshop to fit each person with a straight Russian snath to their body. I’d started working from some instructions by Peter Vido but found through working with Chris Helks and Paul Kingsnorth that these needed modifying to account for variations in people’s body geometry and their mowing style. Once I’d sorted out a system it was then fairly straightforward to build the snaths and send people away with finished scythes for them to practise with. It was a pretty hectic time to get everyone sorted, working in the hot marquee while also aware that I needed to get through the process of costume and makeup. It was fascinating to see how things worked behind the scenes and to watch how they transformed us into Russian peasants – some needed less work than others!
As well as making snaths for the extras I also fitted the scythes for the three principal actors playing the parts of Levin and two peasant mowers. They’s only had a few hours of tuition, from Christiane Lechner, Beth Tilston and Gemman Suggitt before they were expected to mow. It was more diffictult to fit their snath as they didn’t know what their mowing position would be but I had enough experience by then to be able to judge it myself with Christiane’s help.
With all of that work to get through I was last into makeup and on to the set so the line of mowers were already in place across the dressed meadow and I was filmed for just a short time, passing right by the camera. This meant I had time and a great position to watch the action as the scythes swept across the field. This was probably the biggest team of scythes that the UK has seen for 50 years or more and it certainly looked impressive, especially as the crew worked hard to get everyone mowing in sync. For me it was especially pleasing to know my snaths were out there working and get such a lot of positive feedback from people afterwards.
I learned a huge amount about snaths, angles and hand positions which I’ll continue to work with over the next couple of months. Then on Saturday 22nd to Sunday 23rd October I’ll be running a snath-making workshop here in Kendal. This will include learning about the design and principles of ergonomic scythes and making an Austrian-style snath from coppice wood. The cost for the weekend is £120, to book please send me an email steve-tomlin[at]hotmail.co.uk .