Stardust | 2007
- DIRECTOR |
- Matthew Vaughn
Producer-turned-director doesn’t sound promising (isn’t the producer the philistine bean counter constantly warring with the artistic sensitivity of the director?) Well, Guy Ritchie’s one-time producer contradicts that stereotype, and also manages to round up a dream cast.
The film’s prologue, set in the ‘Royal Academy Observatory’, where scientists respond to Dunstan’s (Ben Barnes) query about a world beyond the wall that surrounds his village, is Stowe School in Buckinghamshire, which must have been a familiar place to Vaughn – it’s his old school. Not that the school is any stranger to the big screen. Remember its classic exterior as ‘Berlin’ in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade?
The village of ‘Wall’ is a combination of two locations. The village itself, including the grocery store where Dunstan’s grown-up son Tristan (Charlie Cox) works, is Castle Combe, about ten miles northeast of Bath in Wiltshire. Famously dubbed “the prettiest village in England”, its screen-friendly stone cottages have been seen in the 1967 musical Dr Dolittle, as well as 2010’s updating of The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro, and Steven Spielberg’s film of War Horse.
Although it appears to be only a short walk away, the house of Tristan’s love, Victoria (Sienna Miller), is on Arlington Row, a picturesque line of 17th-century weavers’ cottages on the river bank in Bibury, about ten miles northeast of Cirencester, Gloucestershire.
The magical wall itself, which acts as a portal to the mysterious kingdom of ‘Stormhold’, was built in Ashridge Park, Little Gaddesden, northwest of Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire. The sprawling estate is used frequently, in films such as Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire and First Knight. Ashridge House, the heart of the estate – now a private college – was used as the military prison in Robert Aldrich’s 60s war movie The Dirty Dozen.
In Stormhold, the old King (Peter O’Toole) is lying on his deathbed as his avaricious sons squabble over the inheritance. The grand bedchamber, where he sets his sons a challenge by flinging a ruby necklace into the sky, is the flamboyantly Indianesque interior of Elveden Hall, a private house on the A11 about four miles west of Thetford in Suffolk.
Elveden’s extravagantly carved marble rooms were previously seen as the palatial home of villain Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the site of the ‘Tangier’ banquet in Bond movie The Living Daylights, but most famously featured as the background to the bizarre masked orgy in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
Two more locations you won’t be able to visit are the crater in which fallen star Yvaine (Claire Danes) lands, and the gloomy palace of Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her sisters, which were sets at built at Pinewood Studios.
The princes continue their bickering over the coffin of their father (and accidentally poison the archbishop) as he lies in state in another Bond location, St Sofia’s Greek Cathedral, Moscow Road, Bayswater, W2. This was a ‘Russian’ church in both the 1995 Bond film GoldenEye, and in Ken Russell’s biopic of the composer Tchaikovsky, The Music Lovers.
On the trail of the star, to restore her powers, Lamia meets Ditchwater Sal (Melanie Hill) at the at the Faerie Glen, just east of Uig toward the north of Skye. It’s an area of odd little conical hills and small lochs, which give it the appearance of a whole landscape in miniature, overlooked by the distinctive peak called Castle Ewen.
Skye is joined to the mainland by the Skye Bridge, at Kyle of Lochalsh, and there are also mainland ferry connections from Mallaig and – in summer – from Glenelg.
If you’re in the area, at Dornie, on the A87, the road to Kyle of Lochalsh, stands Eilean Donan Castle – famous from Highlander, and seen in loads of other films, including 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, and Shekhar Kapur’s epic Elizabeth, The Golden Age. And just a few miles north of Kyle of Lochalsh you’ll find the village of Plockton – where Sergeant Howie arrived in The Wicker Man.
The star in human form, Yvaine, is trekking with Tristan through the breathtaking Brecon Beacons National Park, Carmarthenshire, in south Wales. Their path takes them across the hills above Llyn y Fan Fach, a glacial lake near Ystradfellte.
Though there are no fairies here, there are mystical connections – according to one legend, this is where the lady of the lake handed the sword Excalibur to King Arthur. Though as the Monty Python team maintained, “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.”
The journey of Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) is even more convoluted. It’s on the icy beach at Hafnarfjörður, just southwest of Reykjavik on the southwest coast of Iceland, that he consults the unfortunate soothsayer. Yes, those snow-covered mountains, and even the giant blocks of ice, are the real thing and not CGI.
Back on the Isle of Skye, Lamia stands beside her goat-drawn chariot, atop a dizzying cliff overlooking the Quiraing – a spectacular landslip on the northeast of the island. Although it’s clearly Michelle Pfeiffer in the close up, nobody wants to lose a major star halfway through production, so a stunt woman takes over for the long shot.
Closer to home (or the studio), Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) barters with Ferdy the Fence (Ricky Gervais) inside a prop and location warehouse in Hertfordshire. After 40 years supplying props to film, television and theatre, Keeley Hire Ltd, on the Charlton Mead Lane Industrial Estate, Charlton Mead Lane South, Hoddesdon, takes centre stage.
The streets of ‘Stormhold’ can be found in Norwich, Norfolk. After a disastrous fire in 1507, Elm Hill, west of Norwich Cathedral, was rebuilt and its Tudor houses have remained relatively untouched ever since. The ‘Slaughtered Prince’ is Britons Arms Coffee Shop, 9 Elm Hill at Princes Street. It’s said the owners of the property wanted to keep the film’s impressive set dressing, but that’s not going to happen in a historic district, and the original condition has been precisely restored. The picturesque Tombland nearby was seen in Joseph Losey’s magnificent 1970 The Go-Between.
After a final face off with Lamia and Septimus, Tristan – with perfect fairytale logic – finally becomes the next King of Stormhold. The celebrations are once again Stowe School though, as you can probably see, there’s just a little digital imagery added.