EXCLUSIVE: After enduring a heatwave in Italy, torrential rains in the UK and a near-miss with some deadly green algae in London, shooting wrapped last week on Dominic Cooper-starrer Stratton. The action thriller is helmed by Simon West and based on the series of novels by ex-SBS agent Duncan Falconer. The film originally had Henry Cavill starring and producing; he later exited and Cooper came on board what West says is a movie with franchise potential and the chance to build another British hero.

Cooper plays John Stratton, an operative of the SBS (Special Boat Squadron), a division of MI5. Austin Stowell co-stars as his U.S. counterpart, a Navy SEAL who teams with Stratton to combat an international terrorist. (See an exclusive first photo above).

West tells me he’d been looking for a new British action hero when the project rolled around. “We’ve got Bond, who’s an instutution. But we don’t have anyone else. I felt there was a gap for a British action hero that was an alternative to Bond. More gritty and realistic, but just as fun.”

The English helmer, whose credits include Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Expendables 2 and the upcoming Blob remake, says there’s hope for more in the series. “There are eight books and we’ve only scratched the surface.”

The shoot was not a breeze, however. “We got hit with every kind of obstacle. In Italy, it was 110 degrees every day, then there were strikes at the location and when we got back to England it was monsoon rain.”

For a major action sequence, West had planned to shoot in canals by London’s Olympic Park. But just before they settled in, toxic algae was found in the water. “If we had breathed it, we all would have died, apparently,” West says. So, they picked up sticks for Canary Wharf instead. They then found themselves racing speedboats in between HSBC and Barclays banks in the heart of the financial district. “You can only do that on holidays so we don’t scare the bankers.”

Cooper, says West, did most of his own stuntwork. “I knew he was a great actor, and it’s well-proven that if you put a really good character actor in an action arena it elevates the whole thing. You just never know if they’ll be able to hold a gun or drive a car.” Cooper did all of the stunt driving, hung from a helicopter and, it turns out, was a finely practiced speedboat driver. “He was doing 50 miles an hour in tiny canals through central London,” West marvels.

Agent Carter star Cooper has the AMC drama pilot Preacher on deck and is also in recent Toronto debut The Lady In The Van with Maggie Smith. Stowell (Whiplash) is in TNT drama Public Morals from Edward Burns, and has the Steven Spielberg-helmed feature Bridge Of Spies coming up opposite Tom Hanks. Also in the Stratton cast are Gemma Chan, Tyler Hoechlin, Tom Felton, Thomas Kretschmann, Derek Jacobi, Connie Nielsen and Jake Fairbrother.

The pic is produced and financed by GFM Films via Stratton Film Productions Ltd. GFM is also handling worldwide sales and shopping the film at the AFM with an eye to having it released in the late summer or early fall of 2016.