Historic houses used for filming of series four of The Crown
PUBLISHED: 23:04 14 November 2020 | UPDATED: 20:15 26 November 2020
Netflix 2020, Inc
The fourth season of global hit The Crown arrives on streaming platform Netflix on Sunday, November 15. With the production once again partly filmed on location in Hertfordshire, Alan Davies looks behind the scenes of the Netflix series based at Elstree Studios.
Hertfordshire viewers binge watching the new series four of The Crown might recognise a few familiar locations.
Knebworth House once again reprises its role as the on-screen double for the inside of Balmoral, the Queen’s Royal Deeside residence in Aberdeenshire.
The State Drawing Room at Knebworth House is one of the rooms you can see in episode two, ‘The Balmoral Test’, as revealed in a behind-the-scenes Instagram post by Gillian Anderson, who plays Margaret Thatcher.
It is here in the series where the Royal Family play the party game ‘Ibble Dibble’.
The Gothic mansion previously appeared as Balmoral in the opening Claire Foy/Matt Smith series of the Netflix hit.
Brocket Hall on the outskirts of Welwyn Hatfield is one of the stately homes used for Kensington Palace in season four.
You can see the Morning Room at Brocket Hall in Episode 10 of series four.
Locations for Buckingham Palace include Wrotham Park near Potters Bar, and Moor Park.
Sets were also built at Elstree Studios for the Queen’s famous London residence.
Mark Walledge, supervising locations manager for The Crown, said: “In terms of the major locations on Season 4, we of course returned to our established Royal Houses, including for interiors of Buckingham Palace, Lancaster House, Wilton House, Goldsmiths Hall and Wrotham.
“Exteriors of Buckingham Palace were split between the backlot at Elstree plus Greenwich Naval College and Moor Park.”
Wrotham Park also features as Princess Anne’s country residence Gatcombe Park, while scenes at Clarence House were filmed on location at High Canons in Borehamwood.
Season four of The Crown, which arrives on streaming site Netflix on Sunday, sees the 1970s drawing to a close.
Queen Elizabeth, played by Oscar-winning The Favourite actress Olivia Colman, and her family find themselves preoccupied with safeguarding the line of succession by securing an appropriate bride for Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), who is still unmarried at 30.
As the nation begins to feel the impact of divisive policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher, played by Gillian Anderson, tensions arise between her and the Queen which only grow worse as the PM leads the country into the Falklands War, generating conflict within the Commonwealth.
While Charles’ romance with a young Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) provides a much-needed fairy tale to unite the British people, behind closed doors, the Royal Family is becoming increasingly divided.
Written by Peter Morgan, The Crown’s fourth season also stars the Emmy-nominated Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Erin Doherty as Princess Anne, Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker Bowles, and Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten.
Roughly 90 locations were used in the series, and about 75 per cent of filming took place on location away from the production base at Elstree Studios in Hertsmere.
All the main royals – plus series newcomers Margaret Thatcher and Lady Diana – were on set at Knebworth House for scenes at Balmoral.
As well as Knebworth, the Ardverikie Estate in Kinloch Laggan, Newtonmore, Inverness-shire, was also used for the Balmoral estate.
Ardverikie is also famous as being the fictional ‘Glenbogle’ in TV series Monarch of the Glen.
Balmoral plays a significant role in this season, as Olivia Colman explains.
“Balmoral is where the family properly gets to escape, enjoy the outdoors, and do what they really love,” says the Broadchurch star.
“And actually, I think we all enjoyed our weeks filming in Scotland more than any others.
“It was so breathtakingly beautiful, so friendly, filming outside by those lochs and on those hills was thrilling.”
Balmoral features heavily in episode two of the new season.
The episode’s synopsis states: “When Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis pay their first visit to holiday with the Royal Family in Balmoral, they wonder if they will pass the infamous ‘Balmoral Test’.”
Tobias Menzies plays Prince Philip, Duke Of Edinburgh in the series.
Of the significance of Balmoral, he says: “My understanding is that it is where the Royal Family is closest to being a family, where they are most at ease and relaxed.
“It tends to be a summer thing, there are fewer servants, they wear their own clothes a bit more, it’s a bit less ceremonial and structured, as close as that family gets to hanging out as a family and having a summer holiday.
“So into that mix, Peter [Morgan] throws both Thatcher and Diana. Thatcher arrives.
“It’s a tradition that all PMs are invited to Balmoral in August and she has just become the new PM so she travels up with Denis.
“It doesn’t go well, she is a fish out of water, she is bemused, humiliated and confused by the strange rules, and by the end of it, it sets up some distance between Thatcher and the Queen, which then plays out through the season.
“By contrast, Diana is invited by Charles to Balmoral at the beginning of their relationship and she passes with flying colours and is a natural, understands how it works, the different personalities.
“It’s a real success so it’s the beginning of her journey into this family.”
Martin Childs has been production designer on every season of the Golden Globe-winning Netflix series, winning an Emmy for season one.
He says the most challenging set to put together for this latest series was creating “more obscure” areas of Buckingham Palace.
“I guess in a way the challenges have been more about mood on season four, creating parts of Buckingham Palace that reflect Diana’s state of mind – a combination of Cinderella and the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca.
“For this we created more obscure corners of the Palace that were less documentary, more dreamlike.
“We also had to find locations and create sets for the backstory of Michael Fagan, who in 1982 took it upon himself to break into the Palace and make his way to the Queen’s bedroom.
“Here I wanted to create the home of a proud man, doing his best and down on his luck. It would have been too easy to take a more low-life route.” Childs adds: “This episode also involved creating social services and dole offices. Rather than do the obvious – to emphasise a contrast – I decided to create these using exactly the same colour palette as Buckingham Palace but here the red chairs would be polypropylene rather than velvet, the pink walls stained with tea and coffee rather than decked with priceless paintings.
“The continuity of colour palette intrigued me and, rather than a perverse decision, was inspired by some social realist photographs from the 80s.”
A number of sets were also built at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire to create the inside of Buckingham Palace. How did Childs do his research?
He replies: “Disguised as a tourist, I went on a tour of the real Buckingham Palace not longer after I was offered The Crown.
“I left confident that I could recreate a sense of the state rooms using grand English houses already known to me, together with unfamiliar ones that I hoped Pat Karam could surprise me with, and he surely did.
“I figured then that whatever we built we could link them invisibly to our locations.
“The link became the challenge: to create a single look for Buckingham Palace out of four built interiors and four unconnected locations over four separate blocks of filming headed by four different directors.
“I made a plan of the connections just for myself then, based on as much as we know about Buckingham Palace and from knowledge of other buildings of around the same period, I designed a suite of rooms connected by a succession of doorways – an enfilade – and put a bedroom at each end with dressing rooms between.
“I thought this could be an architectural metaphor for a particular marriage, as well as offer opportunities for framing and movement. So it proved, and each director and every director since has been happily exploiting all of its possibilities.”
Season four of The Crown sees a number of new filming locations, as Mark Walledge explains.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to make the schedule work for our usual Windsor visits to Belvoir Castle and therefore had to seek an alternative.
“We went through a number of options with Martin Childs, one of the early contenders being Burghley House. Burghley is not too far from Belvoir Castle, situated in Stamford, and they were very keen to be involved with the show.
“The interior frescos at Burghley were actually painted by the same artist as those at Windsor and once Martin visited he loved the house and the next step was to convince production that this would be our next Windsor. It soon became everybody’s new favourite location!”
Walledge continues: “Sandringham had previously been shot at Englefield House, unfortunately, they were unable to help us this season.
“Martin Childs welcomed the opportunity to look for something a bit more like Sandringham architecturally and our search took us to the Suffolk/Norfolk borders where we found Somerleyton House.
“The house is privately owned but does open to the public for a short season each year.
“Whilst they have had some small filming projects, commercials etc, they had not really had any major filming at the house. Once again, the architecture and grounds are more similar in style to the real Sandringham and geographically quite close.”
New sets were also required for the latest season.
Childs explains: “The Royal Yacht Britannia in season two of The Crown became the subject of many a tale, given that it was made up of no less than eight elements.
“It was therefore with some relief that on season four we required a ‘mere’ four: the digital manifestation of a 400-foot ship, plus three sets we had never seen before – a small cabin, a connecting corridor and, chief among them, the State Drawing Room in which The Queen meets The Prime Minister.
“Once again, I played tricks I’d played on previous interiors: keep the ceilings low and falsify the tapering walls to create an illusion that we are on a ship at sea.
“In reality the Britannia ceilings are pretty low, especially when compared to a royal palace, but not quite as low as our exaggerations. As for the footprint, the real one is close to rectangular so again we introduced some curvature to take its look further from land-based architecture.
“As for decoration, we followed research closely but once again amplified the real interior’s efforts to make you feel you are not at sea in order to create tension between architecture and decor.”
Away from Elstree, The Crown crew transformed various Spanish locations into Australia for Charles and Diana’s trip.
“Spain offered a great deal in terms of architecture that we could call Australian,” says Childs.
“Not the whole of Spain but a relatively small triangle of Spain, so we still have plenty left. It offered Nassau too.
“Mix Spain with our English locations that also played Australia, New Zealand and Nassau and we only needed the Spanish light to compensate for a somewhat greyer England for the illusion to be complete, shy of all that we needed to do in terms of construction and set decoration.
“The only thing Spain couldn’t provide was the sheep station, the location of signs of trouble and reconciliation between Charles and Diana.
“I came up with a sheep station of the imagination, gleaned from memories of research of a cattle station for season one plus memories of an Australian film from the seventies called Sunday Too Far Away.”
Likewise, Manchester was transformed into New York for filming of season four of The Crown.
“Art director James Wakefield took control here and did a complete transformation of four different locations,” explains Childs.
“The brick colour, the concrete, the levels, the scale, were perfect. What was gratifying was that almost all of our efforts went into embellishing, creating, very little into disguising.
“Thus subway entrances were added, skyline added (digitally) and, of course, vehicles – trucks, cars, ambulances.”
Royal Households featured in Season 4 of The Crown
Eight Royal residences feature in The Crown – Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, Sandringham, Highgrove, Clarence House, and Gatcombe Park.
• Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle, a large estate house situated in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, has been a residency for the Royal family since 1852 and is currently owned by Queen Elizabeth II.
Ardverikie Estate, Kinloch Laggan, Newtonmore, Inverness-shire
• Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is the official home of the Queen and has been the seat of the monarchy since 1837.
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich Peninsula
• Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle was built by William the Conqueror and is the oldest working castle in the world. The Queen uses Windsor Castle as her weekend home, as well as performing official duties there.
• Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace was the birthplace of Queen Victoria. It is located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in London.
Sandringham House is located in Norfolk and is the private home of the Royals. The Queen’s country estate is where the Royals traditionally celebrate Christmas.
Somerleyton Hall, Somerleyton.
Highgrove is home to The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. The estate is located in the county of Gloucestershire and is well known for its gardens.
• Clarence House
Clarence House is the London residence of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.
It is positioned next to St James’ Palace and counts The Queen Mother, The Queen and Prince Philip as previous occupants.
High Canons, Borehamwood.
• Gatcombe Park
Gatcombe Park is the country residence of Anne, Princess Royal. It is located within Gloucestershire and is six miles from Highgrove House. Parts of the grounds open for events, including horse trials and craft fairs.
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