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Image of film still Robin Hood

Windsor Great Park in Robin Hood

Date posted: 01.05.2010

After three years in the making, Robin Hood, the highly anticipated new feature from director Ridley Scott, which shot across South East England, is set to open Cannes this month – one of the most prestigious events on the film festival calendar.

Based on the famous English legend, Robin Hood is set in late 12th Century England as Sir Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) returns to his village after fighting in the Crusades. Discovering the oppression caused by the new Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) Sir Robin attempts to free his home village from tyranny and corruption together with his group of Merry Men of Sherwood Forest.

This epic film made use of some of the best rural locations surrounding London, including the Ashridge Estate, Little Gaddesden, and Bourne Wood, Surrey, but it was the search for Sherwood Forest which brought Location Manager Bill Darby to Windsor Great Park. As Bill explains,: “There are loads of excellent woods around London. After extensive recces, we plumped for Bears’ Rails in Windsor Great Park, an ancient oak forest with some trees over 1,000 years old - which is only about 40 minutes from central London.”

Owned and managed by the Crown Estate, the Great Park is set in 5,000 acres of the Surrey and Berkshire countryside stretching from Windsor Castle to the north and Ascot to the south. With its varied landscape and sweeping deer lawns, woods, coverts and huge solitary ancient oaks, the park is also abundant in wildlife.

Due to such diversity, the park can offer productions an array of different locations all on the same site. Nick Day, Operations Manager. for the Crown Estate, says that “often a location manager will come to us looking for one thing and end up leaving with a set of completely different ideas of what they can achieve. We have so much variety; from ancient forests, to formal gardens and wild woodlands, rivers, lakes and ponds, not to mention a golf course, private roads and a whole privately managed village. Our aim is to be as film friendly as possible whilst working in conjunction with Natural England to protect and preserve the existing natural environment. Much of Windsor Great park is designated as a SSSI, and we simply have to respect it.”

As well as big feature films the Great Park is also regularly host to a number of smaller TV projects and commercials, and all money made from filming goes straight back into the management and maintenance of the park.

Ridley Scott’s production team also made use of Virginia Water Lake, situated in the south of the park, which doubled for a 12th Century River Thames. "We were looking for somewhere to build the Royal dock and water gate to the Tower of London to shoot the arrival of the royal barge” says Bill, “we couldn’t find anywhere suitable on the Thames itself so I started looking at lakes.”

“Virginia Water has the right orientation, it runs east to west, and is about the right width. As luck would have it, Nick Day from the Crown Estate was also able to show us an overgrown Victorian boating dock in the grounds of Virginia Water Cottage, the dock was the perfect plinth on which to build our set and allowed us to crane the royal barge into the water in three sections and bolt it together around the corner. Altogether we were on site for about 16 weeks".

Nick understands the importance of planning and communication when working on a project of this scale. “Ridley Scott kept saying ‘this is a really big film’ and when Ridley Scott says that you know it means something! We had a good time with the shoot and a lot of that was down to the planning with Bill. What really worked was allocating a specific member of our staff to liaise directly with a dedicated member of the locations department. The two almost became part of one another’s team and therefore gained an understanding of what each other wanted.”

Nick concludes: “The public were very excited about this particular shoot, and again I think it is a testament to the excellent communication between the production and location that neither the public nor the film crew were inconvenienced in any way. Working with Bill and his locations team gave us confidence, which is all important with such a large project.”

To apply to film at Windsor Great Park please contact Gino Caiafa at the Crown Estate on 01753 847 519 or Gino.Caiafa@thecrownestate.co.uk.

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