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Thursday September 19th 2019

Chimes At Midnight | 1965

Chimes At Midnight filming location: Castell de Cordona, Cordnoa, Barcelona
Chimes At Midnight location: the court of King Henry IV: Castell de Cordona, Cordona, Barcelona | Photograph: Alamy / Michael Jenner

Orson Welles’ adaptation of both parts of Henry IV (incorporating bits of Richard II, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor, some Welles and Ralph Richardson’s narration of Holinshed’s Chronicles) was made under near-impossible conditions yet remains arguably the best screen adaptation of Shakespeare.

15th century ‘England’ is conjured up entirely in Spain. The opening scenes of Falstaff (Welles himself) and Justice Shallow (Alan Webb) in the snow were filmed at  Guipuzcoa, in the Basque Region of northern Spain.

Interior sets were built in the Spanish capital, Madrid, including the interior of the ’Boar’s Head’ tavern in ‘Eastcheap’ where Prince Hal (Keith Baxter) carouses with his libidinous father figure Falstaff.

Chimes At Midnight filming location: City Walls, Avila, Spain
Chimes At Midnight location: the city walls of 'London': City Walls, Avila, Spain | Photograph: Shutterstock / Roman Sigaev

The exterior of the tavern was constructed alongside the walls of Ávila, about 50 miles northwest of Madrid, which throughout the film stand in for the old city walls of ‘London’.

They’re the oldest and best-preserved medieval walls in Spain, two miles in length and defended by defended by 88 towers.

The vast, echoing stone palace of Hal’s cold and remote real father, Henry IV (John Gielgud) is the castle of Cardona, about 50 miles northwest of Barcelona. The castle has since been renovated to become the luxurious Parador de Cardona, Castell de Cardona, Cardona.

Economically, the rear of Cardona was also used as the castle of Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy (Norman Rodway), scion of the Percy family who lead the rebellion against Henry.

The robbery at ‘Gadds Hill’, where Hal and his pal Poins (Tony Beckley) in turn rob Falstaff, was filmed in the Casa de Campo – once a royal hunting area, now a huge park in Madrid, reached by metro or bus (route 33).

The streets of old ‘London’ were filmed in Pedraza, an old town in Segovia, about 55 miles north of Madrid, where the Plaza Mayor is one of Castile’s most beautiful squares.

Chimes At Midnight filming location: Calatañazor, Soria, Spain
Chimes At Midnight location: Pistol and the ragtag army set out to battle: Calatañazor, Soria, Spain | Photograph: Shutterstock / Jose Arcos Aguilar

As an army is assembled to confront the rebellion, the swaggering Pistol (Michael Aldridge) and the other warriors ride triumphantly through the streets of overhanging houses is the village of Calatañazor, a medieval town about 12 miles west of Soria. The bells ring out from the tower of the Romanesque Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Castillo (Church of Santa María).

The bloody, muddy, grubby and unglamorous 'Battle of Shrewsbury', on of the best battle scenes captured on film, was staged back at Casa de Campo with no more than 180 extras imaginatively filmed to look like a clash of thousands.

It’s back to the vast spaces of Cardona as Henry’s health fails and Hal attempts a reconciliation with his ailing father before the king’s inevitable demise.

Once Falstaff and his pals hear of the death of Henry and the accession of Prince Hal to the throne of England, as Henry V, they race breathlessly back to 'London' from Shallow's orchard in 'Gloucestershire' to take their long-awaited places at court.

Chimes At Midnight filming location: Monastery of Santa María de Huerta, Soria, Spain
Chimes At Midnight location: Falstaff is banished at Henry's coronation: Monastery of Santa María de Huerta, Soria, Spain | Photograph: Wikimedia / Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA

In one of Shakespeare’s greatest scenes, Falstaff discovers painfully that his young drinking companion has finally grown up. Falstaff’s rejection by the new king begins at his coronation in Cardona, but imperceptibly moves for the heartbreaking banishment to the vaulted Refectory of Monasterio Cisterciense de Santa María de Huerta (The Monastery of Santa María de Huerta), Calle S. Bernardo, 2, Santa María de Huerta, in Soria.

It’s a Cistercian monastery and still very much in use.

The coronation is supposed to be taking place, like those of all but two British monarchs since William the Conqueror, in ‘Westminster Abbey’ – which is why the severe Cardona suddenly becomes so ecclesiastical.

Chimes At Midnight filming location: Church of Santo Domingo, Soria, Spain
Chimes At Midnight location: the façade of 'Westminster Abbey': Church of Santo Domingo, Soria, Spain | Photograph: Shutterstock / villorejo

The Abbey’s elaborate façade, where the forces of justice conspire to see the king’s commands are carried out, is still in Soria, but it’s that of Church of Santo Domingo.

Broken, Falstaff makes his sad last exit through the huge, double-towered gate of Puerta de San Vincente (Gate of St Vincent) in the walls of Ávila, and it’s against the backdrop of the wall and its towers that Falstaff’s outsized coffin in finally trundled away.