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Behind The Scenes: Sacrifice

This year, the film adaptation of Sacrifice by Sharon Bolton will finally hit the big screen. We’ve been excited about this adaptation ever since we brought you first news of the film back in 2013. Now we’re thrilled to bring you a look behind the scenes from Sharon Bolton herself.

Sacrifice follows the story of Tora Hamilton, a consultant surgeon, who moves with her husband to the Shetland Islands. In the peat soil near her new home she uncovers the perfectly preserved body of a young woman. Runic symbols are carved into her skin. Her heart has been cut out. Ignoring warnings and threats to leave well alone, Tora uncovers terrifying links to an ancient legend that might never have been confined to the pages of the story books.

Over to Sharon:

Behind the Scenes of Sacrifice: An Author’s Diary

Friday 4th December 2014. The Set Visit.

7.00am. I’m pacing the length of my hotel room. Three hours before I can meet producer, Peter Lewis, and grab a taxi to the set. Peter optioned Sacrifice back in 2008. The waiting process has been agonising at times and I suspect the next three hours will be worse. I’d happily watch equipment being unloaded right now. I’d sweep the set, make tea. I just want to be there.

10.00am. Finally, I make my way downstairs. This is only the third time I’ve met Peter but we hug and I try not to behave like a toddler on Christmas morning. I ask how it’s all going. He tells me great. (He would say that, wouldn’t he? What if it’s all embarrassingly bad? What if they’ve turned my baby into a second rate horror film?)

10.30am. We head out. I try not to bounce on the seat.

11.00am. Arriving at a huge old house just outside Dublin, I see trailers stretching the length of the drive, equipment vans spewing out endless, anaconda-like wiring. There are honey wagons, catering vans, mobile offices. I see a costume store, a make-up trailer. Oh my God, it’s real.

Peter takes me into a portacabin. I meet one of several assistant directors and am temporarily distracted by the ‘call sheets’ taped to the wall. Every single shot, in every single scene, is detailed here. I stare at character names I invented years ago, when even a published book seemed a dream too far, let alone this.

SacrificeHeading for the set, we step over coils of wire, around huge black boxes, dodge endlessly moving people, making our way into a splendid Georgian hall with wooden panels, carved ceilings, flaming torches and a huge, sweeping staircase. Before us, fifty people form an incongruous gathering of jean-clad crew, women hiding finery under winter coats, men in highland dress and stunningly handsome teenage boys who are, I realise with a gulp, the sinister sons of Tronal. A young German woman is demanding silence – she does this continually throughout the day. There is a clapper-board saying Sacrifice. The ethereally beautiful Radha Mitchell, fighting off a chill, clutches a hot water bottle. She is playing Tora and is exactly how I pictured the character all those years ago. (Except, maybe, with shorter hair.)

I meet Peter Dowling, the director, and am offered the opportunity to be in the movie, to dress up and be a party guest. I thank him and decline. A fly on the wall is what I need to be today.

12.30am. I’m like a kid in a toy shop. Everything fascinates me. I’m trying desperately not to get in the way, but there really is no room for me. There’s no room for half the people here, but somehow we all manage to fit, to squeeze out of shot every time Peter shouts ‘Action!’ I try desperately to take photographs but it’s almost impossible to get close enough.

1.00pm. Lunch break. The stars head off to their trailers, the rest of us queue in the rain and take food into the old corporation bus that is our dining room. It’s cold, damp and the food is pretty awful but I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

2.00pm. The party in a Shetland mansion has become Christmas in a sophisticated Manhattan club as we film the opening scenes of the movie. These are the scenes that will set the tone of the whole film. They have to be right. I fight down an attack of nerves, but I can feel tension rising on set.

Radha, who can only be parted from her hot water bottle when the cameras are rolling, is fabulous in a burgundy evening gown. Rupert Graves (Duncan) keeps everyone’s spirits up with his irrepressible humour. The extras shiver in their flimsy evening dresses.

3.30pm. I’m awestruck by the actors’ ability to give such life and depth to a string of perfectly ordinary words. With a raised eyebrow, Radha conveys what I couldn’t have achieved in a whole page. Rupert has a way of delivering lines that makes every one sound special.

Sacrifice6.00pm. The schedule starts to slip. Outside, darkness falls. The planned celebratory dinner (it’s Radha’s birthday) starts to look unlikely. We press on, because after today there are only five more days of filming remaining. Pizza arrives for the crew.

7.30pm. Peter Lewis, who has been zipping in and out of meetings all day, pulls me to one side to show me the first, unofficial trailer. To the strains of Led Zeppelin, I see the film finally start to take shape. Tora mourning her dead horse, a frantic late night chase through the hospital, a car crash, a new born baby. I burst into tears. The footage is extraordinary. There is much still to do but this film has a chance of being fabulous.

8.45pm. We’re behind on schedule but the unflappable Peter Dowling believes he can catch up tomorrow. Everyone is tired and bitterly cold. Radha isn’t well. Peter decides to call it a day. To my utter delight, the German assistant director calls, “It’s a wrap!” (Yes, they really do say that.) We head back to the hotel. Tomorrow I have to go home. I can’t bear the thought. I want to stay here, in this tiny, wonderful world that has become Sacrifice.

A huge thank you to Sharon for sharing her behind-the-scenes experience with us. Consider our appetite well and truly whetted – we can’t wait to see Sacrifice in cinemas!


    I am a little obsessed with Scotland and indeed Shetland so I recorded “Sacrifice” on Sunday 26th June so I could watch it at my own pace, enjoying landscapes I might recognise.
    I didn’t recognise any and now I know why! It wasn’t even filmed in Scotland! Was good nevertheless but for some unknown reason my Sky+ box only recorded 59 minutes and I cannot download it again from catchup! Will try again another time.
    I did notice a glaring continuity error! The hospital Tora went to for interview was called Saxa Vord Hopital..shown over the entrance. A little later on when she returns there to use her work computer the exterior shot shows the same building but someone forgot to edit the name over the entance Mount Carmel Private Hospital! Wonder if anyone else noticed?

    I am so looking forward to this, love all of Sharon’s books and I am hoping that the film does the book justice.

    Bit disappointed they’re not filming in Scotland, but I know the tax breaks mean Ireland is an attractive option for film makers. I remember Radha Mitchell played JM Barrie’s wife in Neverland, and she is indeed gorgeous. Also saw her in a horror film. Best of luck, I hope it does well Sharon! (Plus it’ll boost book sales, of Sacrifice mainly, but probably them all – what’s not to like??!)

    Well it was a great book so from the sounds of it its going to be a great film, all the best Sharon

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