15 April, 2014
'The Double' is a harrowing, dystopian tale of one man finding out he has a Doppelgänger - only that it's one who is much more suave, successful and charming than he is. The novella is among writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky's most unsettling and has perturbed readers for generations.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it was the cultural and financial black hole of the Crowthorne Business Estate that was chosen as the destination of choice for Richard Ayoade's new film adaptation.
For his dark and bleakly comic film, Ayoade decided to produce scene after scene that was entirely devoid of daylight. For this, a part-abandoned business park development that's used for little more than gun testing and car racing must have seemed a veritable godsend.
Sorry estate of affairs
Crowthorne Business Estate has had a faltering start, which only then worsened in recent years. Having first opened at the turn of the 21st Century to help small businesses get a foothold, the estate never quite managed to live up to early promise - a fate only compounded when the recession hit in 2008. Even after just a few years of existence it was being run to less than half its capacity.
The local council had pledged to put forward a funding package to help maintain the estate but, in 2012, realised it could no longer afford to prop up a kind of blight that was losing over £100,000 a year.
Eventually, notices were handed to those businesses still operating in the area to say the council would work with them to help secure a new home and they'd need to move out. This effectively took the sickly, limping estate outside to be shot.
What was Crowthorne's loss turned out to be Ayoade's gain, though. When looking for a bleak, sunshine vacuum that was befitting of Dostoyevsky's prose, it provided a very suitable option. Commenting on the world created within his film, the director told theguardian.com: "it's like the future imagined by someone in the past who got it wrong." In hindsight, quite accurate, then.
Now, it seems the Crowthorne Business Estate is likely to have a worldwide audience in the millions, even if that does involve it being portrayed as a sinister, dystopian hole.
That being said...
For all these wry comments about the failings of the Crowthorne Business Estate, its surrounding areas are anything but unsettling. Crowthorne itself is a notably affluent Berkshire village known for its famous boarding school and strong links to the Armed Forces. Plus, it lies in the wider district of Bracknell Forest, which means it's walking distance from resplendent woodlands, rivers and small but charming villages.
With this in mind, 'The Double' may well be Ayoade's first foray into Crowthorne but it might not be his last. For balance, though, it could well take a move away from Dostoyevsky in order to prompt his return. A shift, possibly, to the likes of Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy or George Eliot.
These would certainly be more representative of the wider area.