The thing about a balloon is that you can’t steer it. Once it
takes off there is almost no telling where it may go.
Enduring Love opens with an accident: in
a beautiful green field, strangers wrestle with a hot-air balloon that
has got out of control. In the basket is a small boy. A freak gust takes
the balloon and the boy up into the sky, a man still clinging pathetically
to the anchor rope, his grip weakening, his hands slipping inch by inch
down the hemp rope, as the enormous red balloon drifts higher and higher
into the deep blue sky.
This is the shot we were all most worried about. We needed perfect
conditions. We needed the wind to be from the southwest, so that the
balloon would move away from the cameras into the beautiful Chiltern
valley we had picked for the scene, but the wind had to be running at
exactly the right speed. Too fast, and ballooning became unsafe. Too
slow, and the balloon would only rise vertically. We needed the sun
to be shining brightly. And we needed everything to be absolutely ready
at the precise golden moment: five actors, the stunt man, five cameras
and their crews, riggers, balloon pilots, and many others. Our best
advice was to attempt the shot at around 5 pm, when the light was still
good, but when the winds would habitually die down to a three-knot whisper.
Once the balloon had taken off, there was no way it could be reset:
it would have to complete its flight, find a friendly looking field
some miles away, land, be deflated, rolled up, packed into a Land Rover
and driven back again along tortuous country lanes. We would only get
one attempt at the shot per day.
So we scheduled this shot at the end of every day of our first week
shooting in that gorgeous field: none of us were mad enough to think
we’d get it on the first day. The time came, though, and we prepared.
The experts launched party balloons filled with helium to gauge the
wind speed as it ebbed: the stuntman checked and rechecked his harness
and the clips that would hold him to the rope: everyone began working
very quietly, loading film, and setting up the cameras. The balloonists
launched their final test and gave the thumbs up, and our gigantic,
blood-red, specially made balloon rose like a huge apple from the Garden
of Eden, and proceeded to drift with absolute majesty across the Oxfordshire
countryside…with a man dangling fifty feet below it on a rope.
We let it drift away from us, open-mouthed in awe, until the film ran
out on all the cameras; by then it was a mile and a half away. We radioed
a “cut” to the balloon team, and our congratulations, and
that we’d got it, and that we didn’t need to do it ever
again, and the stuntman, Lee Seward, let go of the rope, let the harness
and the clip take his weight, produced a banana from out of his jacket
pocket, and proceeded to eat it, quite slowly, floating serenely towards