Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Travelling back in time – if only for a day

The 17th century has been one of my favourite historical eras for a long time now. I’ve always been interested in musketeers, rapiers, the early age of sail and exploration - and they all existed in pretty much the same historical period. I’ve tried my hand at writing historical fiction set in the era and participated at the Hakkapeliitta event (commemorating the Finnish men who participated in the Thirty Years’ War) for the past several years. I even wrote the speech for the invited speaker once.

But last weekend was perhaps the most special amongst all of my 17th century experiences. Our family was invited to take part in the filming of the introductory film for the new Accessible Exhibition of the Olavinlinna Castle in eastern Finland. The film includes snippets of castle life from several time periods, but our task was to bring life to the 17th century and the year 1649 specifically.

Photo by Ossi Hiekkala,

We brought some of our own equipment to the set, but mostly we were treated with theatre and museum replicas as we stepped into the roles of Castellan Aron Klöfverblad, his wife Anna Rothovia and one of their daughters. The characters were actual historical figures and they inhabited the castle for a few years in the late 1640’s. Klöfverblad was raised to nobility in 1653 with the name Klöfverskjöld and he participated in Sweden’s parliamentary session in 1660. He also took part in the funeral procession of Charles X Gustav of Sweden in the same year. Klöfverskjöld and his wife had two sons and five daughters, but for the purposes of the film, it was decided that not all children needed to be shown.

When we arrived to the castle, we were first ushered to meet the make-up artist. She glued a wig to my head, extended my chin beard and added some make-up to my face, while the organisers provided me two sets of costumes to put on. The first one included a leather jacket with armour and a nice helmet, while the latter included a wonderful slashed doublet. I fell in love with this latter piece (even though it was a size too small) and promised myself to get one into my own collection some day. My wife also received a wig and a choice of two dresses. Unfortunately they were both a couple of sizes too large for her, but she posed very nicely in the one that she finally chose. Naturally, our daughter received an intricate hair-do with some hair extensions and a costume of her own.

My character appeared in two scenes, first roaming the corridors of the castle and waking up a sleeping guard and the second in our ‘family quarters’ meeting the same guard and a servant. The scenes did not include dialogue, as the film and exhibition are going to be multilingual. I was very impressed by the professionalism of the filming crew – they had us retake the scenes several times, switching the positions of the cameras for various takes, and offered good advice to the actors on how to go through the scenes and how to improve their performance. Their work was a joy to behold and offered us and especially our daughter a great chance to see how films are made.

Photo by Ossi Hiekkala,

In addition to the filming, there was also a photoshoot as an artist – Ossi Hiekkala, – took photos of all the actors in costumes and will later use them to produce paintings and other works for the exhibition. His excellent portrait pictures of me and of our family together adorn this article.

It was a shame to take off the outfit at the end of the day and return to the modern day, but I guess I would have missed modern facilities when I next had to visit the privy. The 17th century versions featured on the walls of the castle towers were designed to deposit the ejections onto the bedrock and lake dozens of metres below. I can only imagine how cold it must have been in winter when wind was howling, caressing your bottom while you sat there...