The making of The Crown at Southwark Cathedral

Latest 26 Jul 2021

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We spoke to Pat Karam, Location Manager of series one-three of The Crown, Ian Hutchinson, Location Manager for series four, and Rose Harding, Head of Events at Southwark Cathedral, about their experiences shooting the Netflix megahit.

Netflix first shot at Southwark Cathedral back in 2015 for series one, returning in 2019 for series four.

Pat, could you tell us a bit about the scenes you filmed at the Cathedral for series one? Were there any particularly notable moments that audiences might remember?

Pat: “The scenes shot at Southwark Cathedral for season one were used to represent St George’s Chapel at Windsor, and included the funeral of George VI, which I’m sure audiences will remember well. I can recall that we built a catafalque, so that we could show the coffin being slowly lowered into the ground. The scene ends with Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth II scattering soil onto the coffin below, gradually fading to black."

What do you think makes Southwark Cathedral such a good film location for a period production such as The Crown?

Pat: “It has the classic layout of a large Cathedral, with fantastic proportions and beautiful stonework."

You were Supervising Location Manager on the first three seasons of The Crown. A number of scenes were shot in London, could you tell us a bit about the location recceing and research process?

Pat: “Many scenes were shot in London, and in many cases we were able to use the actual locations included in the script, for instance Marlborough House and The Mall. Being able to shoot at real historical locations is one of the unique advantages of filming in London. The research undertaken for The Crown is very comprehensive and we try to double locations specified in the script as closely as possible. Reconnaisance visits are also a hugely important part of this process, we aim to see as many options as possible, and probably only use about 60% of the locations we have visited. As the show goes on the list of available, suitable new locations gets smaller as we seem to have shot in nearly every period building of interest!”

Rose, where would you place The Crown in terms of your overall location filming experiences?

Rose:The Crown has definitely been one of my most exciting and rewarding film experience at the Cathedral. Who wouldn’t want to work with an organisation with such high production values and crews in all disciplines made up of the ‘best of the best’? I am happy to say it was a privilege. It was great to welcome Olivia Colman back to the Cathedral; she was previously here filming a scene from The Night Manager in our beautiful Churchyard, and it was awesome to have her back on set a few years later for The Crown. I should like to add that teams from Apple TV and BBC Factual have both been here since and ‘The Crown effect’ – the title of a film there surely! – is evidenced everywhere – an appetite and confidence for ambitious and large scale projects, outstanding production values in all teams and triumphing over adversity, the pandemic."

Having now hosted both series one and series four, could you tell us about how the experiences compare? Were there were any notable differences in the size or complexity of the shoots?

Rose: “There were no significant differences between series one and series four in terms of production, although we did utilise the site slightly differently. For series four we positioned a marquee in the Millennium Courtyard for hair, make-up and costume and the public café was used as an area for the ‘extras’.for the ‘extras’. Whereas for series one, our conference rooms were used for hair and make-up and costume rather than the marquee. The Cathedral footprint offers this type of flexibility."

Would you say then that Southwark Cathedral is well-equipped for productions of this scale?

Rose: “Southwark Cathedral provides a large footprint with ample back-of-house spaces, the location itself of course, two outdoor areas for marquees, holding bays for extras and, on some occasions, parking. I’d like to think that the Cathedral has built a good reputation as the ‘go-to’ central London location for a church or cathedral setting, or to satisfy any producer looking for a Gothic building backdrop. We have a great team here.”

Ian, could you tell us a little about the scenes you filmed at Southwark Cathedral for series four?

Ian: “We chose Southwark Cathedral to stage Hugh Lindsay’s funeral that originally took place in Sandhurst Memorial Chapel, and for the Garter Day Ceremony that historically takes place at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. ‘The Crown effect’ is evidenced everywhere – an appetite and confidence for ambitious and large scale projects, outstanding production values in all teams and triumphing over adversity, the pandemic. Southwark Cathedral was a fantastic location to film as it has such a great scale and grandeur."

Which areas of the Cathedral did you actually shoot in?

Ian: “The production filmed in the choir area and nave, spending two days prepping for the shoot day and another day to reinstate. The prep days were mainly to run our electricity cables and position our filming lights. These were powered by our filming generator that I situated (with help from the local council) in parking bays outside. I also worked closely with the organisers of Borough Market to ensure that we did not impede on their everyday movements that keep the market going."

Did you make many changes to the Cathedral to suit the story needs?

Ian: “Very few, to be honest. We did need to bring in certain props to sell our story but the changes we made were just practical ones for our filming. For instance, we did remove and put back reading lights that were in the choir area. This was only to help us see the faces of our supporting actors in this area."

How was your production experience overall?

Ian: “Working at Southwark Cathedral was an absolute pleasure from start to finish. Our work was planned and executed like a well-oiled machine. I owe this to the amazing organisational skills and help from Rose.”

Thanks to Pat Karam, Ian Hutchinson and Rose Harding for speaking us with us.

Interview by Winona Navin-Holder and Nick Goundry

Southwark Cathedral scenes appear in season 1, episode 3: “Windsor” and episode season 4, episode 9: “Avalanche”

Series 1 and series 4 of The Crown are currently available on Netflix. Find out more about filming at
Southwark Cathedral here.