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Image of film still The Crown

Southwark Cathedral in The Crown

Date posted: 01.11.2016

The wait is over. This month streaming giant Netflix will launch its latest ambitious original series, The Crown, an inside story of Queen Elizabeth II’s early reign, revealing the personal intrigues, romances and political rivalries behind events that shaped the second half of the 20th Century.

Co-produced by London-based Left Bank Pictures (Outlander), The Crown has been created by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) who reunites with director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliott) and executive producer Andy Harries (The Queen) after working together on the Tony award-winning play ‘The Audience’, which The Crown is based on. The series takes the story of Queen Elizabeth II even further than the play, delving deeper into the public and private personas of these historical figures. 

A regal line-up

The series boasts an impressive cast, starring Claire Foy (Wolf Hall) as Queen Elizabeth, Matt Smith (Doctor Who) as the Duke of Edinburgh, Vanessa Kirby (A Streetcar Named Desire) as Princess Margaret, John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun) as Winston Churchill, Jared Harris (Mad Men) as King George VI, Victoria Hamilton (Victoria & Albert) as The Queen Mother and Dame Eileen Atkins (Mansfield Park) as Queen Mary.

The world inhabited by these real-life characters is extraordinary, which forced the creative team behind The Crown to push boundaries to give the series the proper scale. According to producer Andrew Eaton, “if you’re telling a story about one of the wealthiest families in the world, you’ve got to live up to that”. The original plan was to build most of the sets in studio, but the team soon realised they would never be able to get the scale on a set build.

Production designer Martin Childs recreated a number of sets in Elstree Studios, including the private chambers of Elizabeth and Philip, offices at Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street, and the world-famous 10 Downing Street front door. They also shot in stately homes and churches across southern England, as well on location in London. A key location was Southwark Cathedral, where the scene of George VI’s funeral and interment in St. George’s Chapel was filmed. 

Funeral at Southwark

Rose Harding, Development Director at Southwark Cathedral, had already met some of the location crew on a previous production, so understood the importance of working together closely, particularly taking into account that Southwark is a working cathedral.

One of the particular requirements was that the production team had to build a rostrum inside the Cathedral for the funeral of George VI. Location manager Pat Karam explains that although the Cathedral had the correct scale, the rostrum was important “to enable the camera to appear to be deep inside the burial chamber”.

The Cathedral opening times were changed to accommodate early morning starts and long evenings, and, except on the filming day, the set up and dismantle didn’t affect any of the usual daily activities. Harding explains “the location managers were so well-versed in working in heritage sites”, adding that “Southwark Cathedral place their own stewards on duty at various access points so that those who would like to attend services that are held in a closed side chapel are escorted there taking account of trip hazards”.

Logistically, working in such a busy area was also manageable. Karam says “we were a very big unit in a busy part of London but Film Fixer (who facilitate filming in Southwark) were very helpful; we had the trucks scattered around the location and since we had no exteriors, the public were not a problem”. Southwark Cathedral were also able to assist with parking in the area, since they own a significant part of Montague Close, a cobbled street on the river side of the Cathedral.

The Southwark Cathedral and production teams communicated together well through the process, making sure that they achieved the particular atmosphere they wanted at the same time as ensuring the historic building was treated with sensitivity and remained open to the public throughout, bar the filming day. “Rose Harding, her team and everyone from Southwark were incredibly helpful before and during the filming”, says Karam. Harding agrees, saying the location manager and production crew “could not have been more helpful with fitting in to the surroundings and the challenges around working in the busy Bankside area”.

About the location

Surrounded by modern buildings and the hustle and bustle of the south bank of the Thames, Southwark Cathedral offers a cavernous location steeped in history.    

The Cathedral has been a place of worship for over 1,000 years. The 13th Century retrochoir is the oldest surviving area, with much of the building having been restored in the 1800s, while still retaining its original Gothic architectural style.

Famous for its imposing and magnificent nave, the Cathedral is also full of hidden corners, spiral stone staircases and quiet chapels, while the 160ft tower allows visitors spectacular views across London.

For filming enquiries, please contact Rosie Harding on 020 7367 6704 or rose.harding@southwark.anglican.org

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