Jason Goodwin: ‘A film needs a bit more going on than Mary Anning scraping at the Blue Lias for two hours and losing her dog’

Our Spectator columnist discusses the benefits to celebrities visiting quiet country film locations after Kate Winslet is spotted in a local restaurant.

Let’s see if you can guess,’ said Anna, ‘who was spotted eating at Dorshi the other night?’

Kate and I always like a guessing game. Dorshi is a restaurant in town, taking its name from a collision of the words Dorset and sushi, where they do little oriental dumplings made with unexpected local ingredients such as hake, squash and organic pork.

They’re clever at it: the food is delicious. The dumplings come with dipping sauces and there’s a soup, too. The restaurant is in a tiny side alley grandly called Chancery Lane and when we first went there for lunch, the boys stopped for chips afterwards because the portions were quite small.

‘Evershot is highly picturesque and is cinematic shorthand for a Hardy adaptation.’

I suggested a few friends of ours. Anna shook her head. If it wasn’t a friend, then it had to be someone famous. ‘Kate Moss,’ I said. It might sound like a feeble guess to you, but it’s hard to keep up if you don’t have a TV and Kate Moss is a celebrity I can at least name. I might actually recognise her if I ran across her in a restaurant.

On top of that, Miss Moss has form in Bridport. She once came to a gig at the Electric Palace cinema and caused a scandal by telling a friendly local girl to eff off, just like that. No warning, no provocation. Everyone was delighted, naturally, and talked about nothing else for weeks.

It wasn’t Kate Moss, as it happened, but Anna arched her eyebrows, so we were on the right track. ‘You got it half-right.’

‘I know who it is,’ Kate said.

I should have guessed, too, of course: a good old-fashioned movie star. We love it when the film people come. They bring a little metropolitan glamour to the place, like weekenders, spending money in the small shops and throwing drinks parties. The last time a big film was shot down here, it was Carey Mulligan playing Bathsheba in Far from the Madding Crowd. All the local men with beards were asked to audition as yokels and the superior B&Bs did a roaring trade.

I met the location manager at tea with some friends. He was slightly anxious because they hadn’t yet found anywhere to shoot the Dorchester scenes, so I sent him to Evershot, where everyone always shoots their old Dorset town scenes. He seemed terribly relieved. Being Danish, he didn’t know the county very well. Evershot is highly picturesque and is cinematic shorthand for a Hardy adaptation.

‘Anna reports that parts of Lyme Regis have been given new stone walls, on painted flats, and that it will be a lesbian romance, with Saoirse Ronan as the lover’

The latest local movie is about Mary Anning, the fossil hunter of Lyme Regis. Before her death in 1847, Anning single-handedly uncovered – and analysed – the ichthyosaurus, the plesiosaur and other fossilised sea creatures embedded in the Jurassic- era cliffs, discoveries that helped change the way people thought about the deep past, evolution and extinction. The very notion of extinction was controversial, supposing that God had created a perfect universe.

Bridport, Dorset, England.

I have always pictured Anning as a solitary, in a poke bonnet and cape, fossicking about the cliffs in winter when the landslides expose the fossils in the clay. She had a much-loved dog called Tray, who got trapped in a mudslide on the beach, but all I know about the new film is that it will be called Ammonite.

Anna reports that parts of Lyme Regis have been given new stone walls, on painted flats, and that it will be a lesbian romance, with Saoirse Ronan as the lover. I’m not surprised. A film needs a bit more going on than Mary Anning scraping at the Blue Lias for two hours and losing her dog.

‘Kate Winslet.’

‘Yup. In Dorshi last Thursday.’