Over 30 years ago actor Roy Kinnear died after being thrown from a horse during filming Return of the Musketeers in Spain. He had dreaded shooting this particular scene because it involved having to “thunder” at high speed across a cobblestone bridge, despite the danger and his lack of horsemanship.
His tragic death appeared to shock the industry into realizing the need for health and safety changes, but his son Rory Kinnear, who followed his father into acting, told the Observer that lives are still being put at risk, with corners being cut due to pressures of time and budgets – “all for the sake of one thrilling shot”.
He said, “Nobody ever saw a shot and thought, ‘It’s worth the death of whoever shot it’.”
Rory was just 10 when he lost his father, one of Britain’s most beloved comic book character actors, who had been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and played the servant Planchet in his latest film.
Although an inexperienced rider, he was not offered a double and his horse slipped after the film company put sand on the cobblestones “in the mistaken belief that it would give him more grip, but actually made it more slippery,” his son said. “He wrote a letter to my mother just before he left, saying, ‘I’m about to do a stunt that even the stunt guys called too dangerous’. They all knew, and yet the plan always took priority over to the safety of the actors.
He was speaking on the fifth anniversary of the tragic death on set of respected British cameraman Mark Milsome, who was killed while filming a car stunt on location in 2017. Rory Kinnear worked with the RSC and the National Theater – winning an Olivier Award in 2014 for his portrayal of Iago in the latter’s production of othello – and played MI6 agent 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 who want to enter the industry.
His health and safety research 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 like my sister was left without a father.” He added: “I’ve definitely seen huge stars feel intimidated into doing something they didn’t want to do.”
MMF president Samantha Wainstein echoed her calls for a long-awaited change. “Mark was needlessly killed while filming a car stunt,” she said. “Five years have passed. We mark this tragic date by requiring mandatory health and safety training for all crew working in film and television.”
The foundation’s research revealed “a stigma surrounding saying ‘no’ to potentially precarious/dangerous situations on set”, with stunts often being rushed because of time and money. Those working on productions “feel compelled to comply, even when they risk putting their own lives and the lives of others at risk.”
A crew member recalled that while filming inside a morgue, the lighting manager insisted that the UV lights be on, even though the morgue staff said that 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. A total of 16 cast and crew members were affected and it turned out that the UV lamps had burned our retinas. The pain and symptoms lasted for three days…No one was held responsible…I was advised not to go any further as it might affect my future work.
MMF has countless examples of tragic accidents beyond the recent case in which cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot on Alec Baldwin’s film Rust with a prop gun loaded with live ammunition.
Wainstein said: “One of the MMF crew members personally worked on two films where crew members were killed, and another where a crew member had to have his or her leg amputated. leg following an accident.”
In addition, the hours are so trying that a screenwriter fell asleep at the wheel and almost wrote off her car.
In a Freedom of Information request, the health and safety manager revealed about 160 non-fatal injuries on set, including “falls from heights”, in the five years to in February 2022.
Ben Pepper, senior partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp, a serious injury claims law firm, said: “The pressure to make movie stunts bigger, better and more dangerous is leading to more accidents. More often than not, these on-set accidents are entirely preventable and result from a production’s failure to take reasonable steps to prevent or minimize risk. These accidents occur despite our very strict health and safety laws. Better on-set education and stricter enforcement of regulations are clearly needed.
The MMF offers an online training course that aims to protect cast and crew and prevent further tragedies. Kinnear thinks it should be mandatory. “Within 18 months of the response to the #metoo movement, there were intimacy coordinators on set just about everywhere. The same with Covid protocols,” he said. “I don’t see why it can’t 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 about getting home safely at the end of the day.”