The Young Victoria | 2009
- DIRECTOR |
- Jean-Marc Vallée
Not since Edgar Wright thanked both Somerfield Supermarkets and Quentin Tarantino in the credits of Hot Fuzz can there have been a more unlikely pairing of names than Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. But here they are, side by side, as producers on this sumptuous account of the early years of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch – until 2015 when Queen Elizabeth II took the title.
The script (by Julian Fellowes, writer of Gosford Park) has little to do with the familiar old dear who gave her name to an era associated with repression and hypocrisy, but focuses on the early years of the queen’s reign, casting her as a social reformer aided by a progressive German consort, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend).
The film has a visual grandeur that only comes with using real locations – in this case 17 of them, in eight counties around the UK.
The dark, oppressive environment of ‘Kensington Palace’, where Princess Victoria (Emily Blunt) is brought up in the notorious 'Kensington System' by her over-protective mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and the fiercely ambitious guardian Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), is Ham House, Ham Street, Richmond-upon-Thames, southwest London.
One of a series of grand houses along the River Thames, Ham House was built to impress in 1610 and retains enough of its 17th century character that it needed little in the way of set dressing.
It’s now a National Trust property and open to the public. The distinctive black and white chequered marble floor of the Great Hall is immediately recognisable and, unlike the Princess Victoria, you’ll be allowed to negotiate the Grand Stairs without having to hold the hand of a servant.
Apart from the formal gardens, where Victoria walks with the shyly awkward Albert on their first meeting, the grounds include a dairy (featuring tables with supports shaped like cows' legs), a still house (pharmacy) and an ice house which, during the winter, would have been filled with ice cut from the Thames.
Ham House was more recently transformed into ‘Hailsham House’, the boarding school in Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go, with Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, in Joe Wright’s 2012 film of Anna Karenina, with Keira Knightley (again) and Jude Law, as well as, surprisingly, sci-fi adventure John Carter.
The real Kensington Palace, set in Kensington Gardens alongside the western reaches of Hyde Park, has been a royal residence since 1689, when the asthmatic William III moved to Kensington from Whitehall to get away from the capital’s polluted air.
As shown in the film, King William IV (Jim Broadbent) was not best pleased to discover that the Duchess of Kent had ‘taken over’, without his permission, a suite of 17 rooms in the palace. Kensington Palace subsequently fell into disuse– seeing service as a museum and as offices.
Today it’s the official residence of the Gloucesters and the Kents, and was, of course, the official residence of Diana, Princess of Wales, who occupied apartments in the north-west part of the palace until her death in 1997. Today, the State Rooms are open to the public, and although her Diana’s apartments are not, the palace does display a selection of her frocks. The nearest tubes are Queensway, Bayswater or High Street Kensington.
The palace of King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann) and the scheming Baron Stockmar (Jesper Christensen) is Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough and the Churchill family. The library in which King Leopold plots his intrigues is Blenheim's Long Library – which explains why he strangely appears to have a statue of Britain's Queen Anne in his palace.
This vast estate has been seen in scores of productions, including Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Barry Lyndon, Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film of Hamlet, the big-screen version of The Avengers and Shekhar Kapur’s The Four Feathers, with Heath Ledger. More recently, Blenheim appeared as the 'Italian palazzo' infiltrated by James Bond in Spectre, and as the site of the 'sting' operation in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,
Albert’s home, ‘Rosenau Castle, Coburg’, is Wilton House, in the town of Wilton, two and a half miles west of Salisbury, Wiltshire, which, like Blenheim, also doubles for ‘Buckingham Palace’ later in the film and has a similar track record on screen – Barry Lyndon, once again, Pride And Prejudice, Sense And Sensibility, The Madness Of King George and Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers.
The opera house, where Victoria attends a performance of her favourite opera, Bellini’s I Puritani, and is later heckled as “Mrs Melbourne” after her close friendship with the charming Prime Minister (Paul Bettany), is the Novello Theatre, Aldwych, London WC2, a twin of the Aldwych Theatre. It was for many years the Strand Theatre, renamed in 2005 in honour of Ivor Novello, the songwriter and actor, who lived in a flat above the theatre from 1913 to his death in 1951.
Arundel Castle, Arundel, close to Littlehampton in West Sussex, stands in for ‘Windsor Castle’, just as it does in 1994’s The Madness Of King George. It went on to become the 'German High Command' infiltrated by Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in Patty Jenkins's Wonder Woman.
The grand banquet for William IV’s birthday, where the bad-tempered king (who was the son of King George III – featured in Madness Of…) publicly berates the Duchess of Kent for “stealing rooms”, is the magnificent Barons' Hall, with its Gothic-style minstrel gallery and hammerbeam roof, completed in 1898 – which actually makes it late Victorian.
The real Windsor Castle in Windsor, Berkshire, the official residence of HM the Queen is the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world, dating back to William the Conqueror. The State Apartments are open to visitors, furnished with art from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Canaletto and Gainsborough. From October to March visitors can also take a peek at George IV's private apartments (known as the Semi-State Rooms).
After the death of the King, the new Queen holds the first nervous meeting with her privy counsellors at Balls Park, Hertford, Hertfordshire. The dark, wood-panelled rooms of the mansion were used as Victoria's ‘Kensington’ bedroom, as well as for dining room scenes.
Despite not being open to the public, you can nevertheless see more of Balls Park in Amazing Grace, The Golden Compass, Starter For Ten and in for Edgar Wright’s fake horror movie trailer, Don’t, included as part of the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double bill Grindhouse.
Another Hertfordshire location you’re not able to visit is college Haileybury College, southeast of Hertford East, a private college which was transformed into the ‘Houses of Parliament’, where Melbourne’s Whig party crucially loses the vote to the Conservatives under Sir Robert Peel (Michael Maloney).
When Peel announces that he finds himself unable to work with the Queen, the London streets, where newspapers are sold announcing the national crisis, are the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, London SE10. The grounds often stand in for the streets of the old capital, in films such as The Duchess, with Keira Knightley; Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes; and the opening sequence of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – as well as for ‘Paris’ in Les Misérables.
After inspecting the ‘recently completed Buckingham Palace’, Victoria becomes its first royal resident. Filming at Her Majesty’s London residence was clearly out of the question, but finding a stand-in for such a well-known landmark. The production neatly solves the problem by knitting together five separate properties:
The familiar East Front of the Palace, which faces the Mall, is the grand frontage of Blenheim Palace (which was seen earlier in the film as Leopold’s palace).
The overwhelming white and gold entrance is Lancaster House, which is – surprisingly – more opulent that the Palace itself. As Victoria herself remarked when she popped along the Mall for a visit “I have come from my house to your palace“. It’s tucked away behind high walls at the end of Pall Mall, and is now owned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Although conferences are held here, the breathtaking Louis XIV interior is rarely open to the general public. You’ll probably have to content yourself with seeing it on screen, and you have plenty of opportunities.
Lancaster House became the Tsar’s ‘St Petersburg Winter Palace’ in Warren Beatty’s historical epic Reds. “Kerensky’s some Socialist, huh?” observes John Reed (Beatty) wryly to Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) as they make their way up the opulent staircase to interview the revolutionary leader in his newly-acquired office. The same interior appears as itself for the Lancaster House costume ball in the Merchant-Ivory film of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl, and subsequently becomes the improbably grand home of Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench) in Oliver Parker’s 2002 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest.
Its favoured role, though, is as ‘Buckingham Palace’, which is how it was seen in both King Ralph and National Treasure: Book of Secrets, where Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) searches for the ‘Resolute Desk’ in the Queen’s study. And, yes, it stands in for the palace again in the award-winning The King’s Speech and The Theory Of Everything.
Lancaster House crops up again in The Young Victoria as the site of the Coronation Ball, where the newly-crowned Victoria enjoys her first waltz with Albert.
Victoria’s sitting room in the Palace is the mansion at Ditchley Park, built in 1722 in the Oxfordshire countryside by the second Earl of Litchfield. Ditchley was visited on numerous occasions by Prime Minister Winston Churchill throughout the Second World War, as it was thought to be safer than the PM’s traditional country residence, Chequers. It’s not generally open to the public, but you can hire the house for conferences or arrange a guided tour.
The elegant Elizabeth Saloon of Belvoir Castle (which you should know is pronounced ‘Beaver Castle’), near Grantham in Lincolnshire. becomes the Palace quarters of Queen Victoria's mother, the Duchess, and Sir John (who was widely believed to have been her lover), where the pair seethe with resentment as they are eased out of favour.
Belvoir’s Chinese Bedroom and the Tapestry Room were both used as Victoria's Palace bedroom; the Regent's Gallery as Victoria awaits her coronation; and the King's Rooms – where the Victoria stayed in real life – serves as Victoria and Albert’s honeymoon suite. The grounds of Belvoir also stood in for ‘Windsor Great Park’.
No stranger to the screen Belvoir has played a public school in Young Sherlock Holmes, ‘Castel Gandolfo’ in The Da Vinci Code and ‘Buckingham Palace’ – again – in 1991’s King Ralph, with John Goodman succeeding to the British throne.
The banquet, at which the Duke of Wellington demonstrates the mighty potential of the yo-yo as a weapon of war, before revealing to Victoria that Lord Melbourne is about to lose power, is the famed Double Cube Room of Wilton House, in Wiltshire (the house earlier seen as ‘Rosenau Castle’).
Osterley Park House, Jersey Road, Isleworth, in south west London, provides Victoria’s sitting room and ante-room. The original redbrick Tudor house which stood on the site was remodelled in the late 1700s by Robert Adam, the most fashionable architect in London.
Another screen veteran, maintained by the National Trust, Osterley appeared in Stanley Donen’s 1960 romantic comedy The Grass Is Greener, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, 1965 Sherlock Holmes mystery A Study In Terror, biopic Miss Potter, with Renée Zellweger as the children’s author, blockbusting Hindi drama Kabhi Khushi, Kabhie Gham… and Amazing Grace, the 2006 film about abolitionist William Wilberforce. More recently, it provided the interior of 'Wayne Manor' for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises.
Not seen in the film, the real Buckingham Palace, which began life as Buckingham House, a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703, was subsequently acquired by George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte.
During the 19th century it was enlarged, finally to become the official royal palace of the British monarch, as it remains.
You can visit the State Rooms, which are, not surprisingly, lavishly endowed with royal treasures: paintings, sculpture, porcelain, and some of the finest English and French furniture. The tour ends with a walk along the south side of the garden, with rare views of the West Front of the Palace.
The coronation, in ‘Westminster Abbey’, is Lincoln Cathedral, as it was for The Da Vinci Code. No unsound theology this time. The Cathedral simply happens to look more like Westminster Abbey would have done in 1837, before becoming cluttered with tombs, statues and memorials of the great and good.
And Prince Albert taking a bullet for the Queen? You’ve not heard that story before? It ß’t happen – not quite like that, anyway. Albert did indeed shield the Queen when a deranged gunman took aim at her carriage, but the gun wasn’t loaded. The scene was filmed in St James’s Park, Westminster.
The gardens, where Melbourne finally acknowledges the qualities of his rival, Albert, and advises the Queen, are at Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey in Surrey. The gardens were also featured in Terrence Malick’s The New World and in The Theory Of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne as Professor Stephen Hawking. Not often seen on screen, Hampton Court Palace’s most famous screen ‘appearance’, as the backdrop to Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-winning A Man For All Seasons, was nothing more than a set.