Dressed-down Smithfield shines as movie set

Published 5:04 pm Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Smithfield acquits itself quite well as a movie set for the comedic drama “Mary 4 Mayor,” streaming now on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Roku and several lesser-known digital platforms.

“Mary 4 Mayor,” written, directed by and starring Corbin Bernsen of “LA Law” fame, is a collaboration of Home Theater Films and Regent University. As you might expect given the involvement of Virginia Beach-based Regent, the movie is family-friendly and inspirational, though it’s not overtly religious.

Bernsen plays an aging pastor whose 18-year-old granddaughter gets crossways with her dad, the pastor’s son and the mayor of fictional Echo Harbor, Virginia, over the future of their hometown. So she runs against him in what had looked to be an easy, unopposed bid for reelection.

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It’s a fun, breezy, sometimes cheesy plot that’s worth a watch by Isle of Wight folks, even if just to see some familiar local scenes on the small screen.

Smithfield Ice Cream parlor is a favorite hangout for the Parson family, one of the few things the mayor and his daughter can agree on. Wharf Hill antique and gift shop also is featured prominently (watch closely, as its significance to the plot is revealed later in the movie). The Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors’ meeting room required little adaptation to serve as the chambers of the Echo Harbor town council.

A couple of fishing scenes were done on the James River at Rushmere, and images from Smithfield’s Main Street are abundant. The historic district proves to be an idyllic setting, so much so that you’re left wondering why more movies aren’t made here.

Isle of Wight Tourism Director Judy Winslow told me it’s the first time in her long tenure that a movie has been primarily filmed in Smithfield, though a few scenes have been done here for other movies. The town and county weren’t compensated by the filmmakers, but as Winslow noted, the economic impact of the 2019 filming was significant in the form of meals and lodging for cast and crew.

My only beef is that the fictional Echo Harbor is a dying town in severe economic decline, especially its downtown — quite the opposite of Smithfield, which is quite vibrant and figuring out how to best manage its growth.

Outsiders who watch the movie and have some familiarity with Smithfield, perhaps having visited many years ago, might wrongly conclude that the shuttered storefronts in the movie are indicative of modern Smithfield. Winslow proudly noted that most towns have to dress themselves up for a movie set, while Smithfield had to dress down, so to speak.

It’s a small price to pay for an otherwise flattering turn in the national spotlight.


Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is steve.stewart@smithfieldtimes.com.