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Saturday March 2nd 2024

Germinal | 1993

At the time, Claude Berri’s epic filming of Emile Zola’s novel about a miners’ strike in the coalmining region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais was the most expensive French film ever made.

Although it would have been cheaper to build sets in Poland, Berri insisted on being faithful to the book’s setting around Douai and Valenciennes, up near the Belgian border.

There was filming at two, by then closed, mines: the Wallers-Arenberg Mine, Rue de Croy in the village of Arenberg, a few miles west of Valenciennes; and a little at Pit 9-9a at Oignies, about 20 miles further west. Both have been preserved. You can visit Wallers-Arenberg, which was due to be demolished until it appeared in the film, and which still has some of the original sets.

The main set of ‘Le Voreux’, though, was built in a field alongside the canal in the village of Paillencourt, off the A2 about 15 miles southwest of Valenciennes. It was dismantled after filming.

In the centre of this area is the Lewarde Mining Museum, rue d'Erchin, Lewarde. The museum’s extensive archives were opened to Berri and his team, to provide design details for the set. Originally the Delloye Colliery, employing around 1,000 miners in the years between 1931 and its closure in 1971, the mine was converted into a museum in the early Seventies. Equipment and documents were transferred from other pits around the mining basin as they closed down, and it’s now the largest mining museum in France.

Locations were found in the nearby towns of Maresches and Trith Saint-Léger.

Berri also filmed in the magnificent kitchens of Chateau de Louvignes, Rue de Villegas 1, Chaussée-Notre-Dame-Louvignies, over the border in Belgium (and confusingly, alongside another Oignies).