‘My dad Roy Kinnear died filming a stunt. Why are lives still at risk?’
More than 30 years ago the actor Roy Kinnear died after being thrown from a horse while filming The Return of the Musketeers in Spain. He had dreaded shooting that particular scene because it involved having to “thunder” at speed across a cobbled bridge, despite the danger and his lack of horsemanship.
His tragic death seemed to shock the industry into realising the need for health and safety changes, but his son Rory Kinnear, who followed his father into acting, has told the Observer that lives are still being put at risk, with corners cut due to the pressures of time and budgets – “all for the sake of a thrilling shot”.
He said: “No one has ever seen a shot and thought, ‘that is worth the death of whoever made it’.”
Rory was just 10 when he lost his father, one of Britain’s best-loved comic character actors, who had been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and played the servant Planchet in his last film.
Despite being an inexperienced rider, he was not offered a stunt double and his horse slipped after the film company put sand on the cobbles “in the mistaken belief that would give it more grip, but actually made it slippier”, his son said. “He wrote a letter to my mum just before he set off, saying, ‘just about to do a stunt that even the stuntmen have said is too dangerous’. They all knew, and yet the shot was still prioritised over the safety of actors.”
He was speaking out on the fifth anniversary of the tragic on-set death of respected British cameraman Mark Milsome, who was killed while filming a car stunt on location in 2017. Rory Kinnear has worked with the RSC and the National Theatre – winning an Olivier Award in 2014 for his depiction of Iago in the latter’s production of Othello – and played MI6 operative Bill Tanner in the four most recent Bond films.
He is a patron of the Mark Milsome Foundation (MMF), a charity dedicated to supporting young people wanting to enter the industry.
Its research into health and safety shows that in the five years since Milsome’s death, “nothing has changed to improve crew safety”.
Kinnear said: “For me, it’s 34 years… Mark left behind a teenage daughter, just as my sister was left behind without a father.” He added: “I’ve certainly seen huge stars feel cowed into doing something that they’ve not wanted to do.”
MMF’s chair, Samantha Wainstein, echoed his calls for long overdue change. “Mark was unnecessarily killed while filming a car stunt,” she said. “Five years have passed. We are marking this tragic date by demanding mandatory health and safety education for all crew working in film and television.”
The foundation’s research found “a stigma surrounding saying ‘no’ to potentially precarious/dangerous situations on set”, with stunts often rushed because of time and money. Those working on productions “feel pressured to be compliant, even when they may be putting their own lives, and the lives of others at risk”.
One crew member recalled that, while filming inside a morgue, the lighting director insisted on having the UV lights on, even though the mortuary staff said this was only done at night when the room was unoccupied: “Later that night, I woke up, unable to see and with very, very swollen eyes. In total, 16 members of cast and crew were affected and it turned out that the UV lights had burnt our retinas. The pain and symptoms lasted three days… No-one was held accountable… I was advised not to take the matter further as it could affect my future work.”
MMF has countless examples of tragic accidents beyond the recent case in which cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot on the Alec Baldwin film Rust with a prop gun loaded with live ammunition.
Wainstein said: “One of the MMF team has personally worked on two films on which crew members were killed, and another on which a crew member had to have their leg amputated as the result of an accident.”
In addition, the hours are so punishing that one script supervisor fell asleep at the wheel and almost wrote her car off.
Under a Freedom of Information Request, the Health and Safety Executive revealed around 160 non-fatal injuries on set, including “falls from a height”, in the five years until February 2022.
Ben Pepper, senior associate at Bolt Burdon Kemp, a law firm specialising in serious injury claims, said: “The pressure to make film stunts bigger, better and more dangerous, is leading to more accidents. More often than not these on-set accidents are entirely avoidable and are as a result of a production’s failure to take reasonable steps to prevent or minimise the risks. These accidents happen despite our very strict health and safety laws. Better education on sets and stronger enforcement of the regulations is blatantly needed.”
The MMF has an online training course that aims to protect cast and crew and prevent further tragedies. Kinnear believes it should be compulsory. “Within 18 months of the response to the #metoo movement, there were on-set intimacy coordinators pretty much throughout. The same with Covid protocols,” he said. “I don’t see why that can’t also be the same for something that can often prevent serious injury or death.”
Milsome’s widow, Andra Milsome, said: “No one should have to worry that they aren’t going to make it home safely at the end of the day.”