Life imitates art as actor in plague movie ends up in Covid-19 lockdown

Rachel Browne, from Terenure, Dublin was filming in Veneto when outbreak began

An Irish actor who has just finished filming a short film in Veneto, Italy, set during the plague in medieval times, has said she and the crew intend to get medical checks when they return home.

Rachel Browne, from Terenure, Dublin, but now living in London, spent the past week working in a part of Italy where some towns have been put on lockdown in an effort to contain the spread of Covid 19, or coronavirus.

“We were staying in a town called Malo, which didn’t get locked down in the end, but all the towns around us were getting locked down because of the coronavirus.”

Veneto and Lombardy are the two areas of Italy where the outbreak of the disease is most heavily located.


The crew from London were filming a story, loosely based on the 14th-century Decameron, about a group of people at a party in a villa who are hoping to avoid the plague in nearby Florence.

“We were kind of self-quarantined, so it was kind of like life mirroring art,” she said.

The crew spent almost all their time either in the house they’d rented in Malo, or in the villa Godi Malinverni, a Unesco world heritage site, where the film was being shot.

At one stage, “not quite because of panic”, they went to the local supermarket and stocked up on food.

“There was so much talk in the press about will we get shut down that we did run out to the shop and grab supplies we would need for the rest of the week.”

When going to Italy from London they knew there was an issue but decided to go anyway. “But then things escalated fast, in that part of Italy, and it became more of a presence for us as a crew every day.”

The situation was never like Apocalypse Now, though they were checked for fever on their way through Venice Marco Polo airport upon arrival on Italy, by staff wearing body suits and face masks.

Because of the way they were living and working, they did not have a huge amount of exposure to local people, she said.

In the movie, which is entitled The Heptameron, the guests at the party begin to get ill. Ms Browne plays the main character, Fiametta, who survives, but many of the others die.

Speaking by phone from Marco Polo airport while waiting for her flight to London, she said there was not much evidence of panic apart from a few people wearing face masks.

When they get back to London, the crew intend to get checked out at special coronavirus checking booths that have been set up outside the city’s hospitals.

A fashion designer working for Vivienne Westwood, Ms Browne said she intended going back to work unless the tests showed cause for concern.

“I’m going to get myself checked when I get home, and then find out the results and go back to work. I’m not going to go into quarantine if it’s not needed.”

The week in Italy, she said, had been “kind of surreal”.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent