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Tuesday December 5th 2023

The Queen | 2006

The Queen filming location: Westin Paris Vendome, rue de Castiglione, Paris
The Queen location: Diana arrives at 'The Ritz': Westin Paris Vendome, rue de Castiglione, Paris

Peter Morgan’s script and Stephen Frears’ direction tread a fine line between respect for a personal tragedy and some subtly wicked jabs at the monarchy in this surprisingly successful account of the strange hysteria which gripped the UK in 1997 following the unexpected death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The film opens with a very traditional view of Her Majesty The Queen (Helen Mirren), sitting for a formal portrait in the robes of the Order of the Garter. The artist, by the way, is played by Earl Cameron, veteran of British classics such as Flame In The Streets and Sapphire.

The film’s two main settings are the monarch’s London residence, Buckingham Palace at the end of The Mall, and Balmoral Castle, the royal family’s beloved Scottish retreat in Aberdeenshire.

Buckingham Palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703, and known as Buckingham House. In 1761 it was acquired by King George III (the monarch portrayed in The Madness Of King George) in 1761 and was subsequently enlarged during the 19th century. It only became the London residence of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.

The Queen's Gallery was opened to the public in 1962 to exhibit works of art from the Royal Collection. The state rooms, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public each year for most of August and September and on some days in winter and spring.

There are establishing shots of both but the interiors were, hardly surprisingly, filmed elsewhere. Several castles and grand homes being cleverly stitched together.

The Queen filming location: Brocket Hall, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
The Queen location: the interior of 'Buckingham Palace': Brocket Hall, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire | Photograph: Wikimedia

When Her Majesty wakes to the news that the Labour Party under its leader Tony Blair has won the May 1997 general election, her ‘Palace’ bedroom is the Lady Melbourne Suite at Brocket Hall, just west of Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire.

The office and dining room where the Private Secretary Robin Janvrin (Roger Allam) gives her, and us the audience, a brief rundown on the PM-to-be, are the Sitting Room and Ballroom of the same house.

Once home to the disgraced Lord Brocket, jailed for an insurance fraud, Brocket Hall is now a conference, dining and golf centre. You can see it from the public footpath running east from Marford Road, almost opposite the Crooked Chimney public house.

Brocket Hall was famously a setting for 1957 horror classic Night Of The Demon, as well as appearing in the 1991 remake of Ira Levin's A Kiss Before Dying, with Matt Dillon and Sean Young, TV movie Murder With Mirrors. The estate grounds used for Highlander and Ron Howard's 1988 fantasy adventure Willow.

Genuine newsreel footage shows the aerial view of Tony Blair arriving at Buckingham Palace, but the arrival itself (with Michael Sheen as the PM-to-be) is filmed in the Inner Courtyard of the Queen Anne Block of the Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich, London SE10. The college grounds have been used for countless films, becoming ‘Buckingham Palace’ again for Phillip Noyce’s 1992 Patriot Games, with Harrison Ford.

The entrance hall and grand stairway, where the Blairs are given a quick rundown of royal protocol in “the presence”, are those of Halton House (RAF Halton), Halton, Buckinghamshire – though the budget didn’t stretch to laying down real red carpet to match the palace.

It’s also Halton as Blair endures his first stilted meeting with HM while Cherie Blair (Helen McCrory) manages a rather unenthusiastic curtsey.

Halton is a country house in the Chiltern Hills above the village of Halton near Aylesbury, built in 1883 for Alfred de Rothschild of the powerful banking family.

It currently serves as the main officers' mess for RAF Halton and is not open to the public.

Halton has also been seen in 1996 musical Evita, as a casino in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, Disney's Cruella, the 1999 film of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, What a Girl Wants (2003), Bride and Prejudice (2004), Flyboys (2006) and The King's Speech (2010)

The jokey tone subsides with the intertitle ‘Paris, August 30’, and a Princess Diana lookalike arriving at the ‘Ritz, Place Vendome’. Understandably this is not the Ritz itself but the entrance to the nearby Westin Paris-Vendome, 3 Rue de Castiglione, just a little to the south.

The Queen filming location: Rue Rouget de Lisle at Rue du Mont Thabor, Paris
The Queen location: the paparazzi gather at the rear of 'The Ritz': Rue Rouget de Lisle at Rue du Mont Thabor, Paris

It’s at the Westin’s rear entrance on Rue Rouget de Lisle at Rue du Mont Thabor, that the paparazzi leap onto their bikes for that final fateful ride.

Apart from a brief glimpse of the real Tunnel du Pont de l'Alma, Paris 8, where the crash occurred, that’s all there is of the real Paris.

As news of the accident is phoned through, there’s a brief exterior shot, snatched guerrilla-style, of Balmoral, the Royals' Scottish country home.

Balmoral has been a favourite retreat for members of the Royal Family since 1852, when the estate and its original castle were purchased by Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria.

The existing house was deemed to be too small, so the current Balmoral Castle was built in 1856 in what's now called the Scots Baronial style.

The Estate has been added to by successive members of the Royal Family, and now covers an area of about 50,000 acres of grouse moors, forestry, and farmland.

Balmoral’s gardens were opened to the public in 1931 and are now open daily between April and the end of July, after which Her Maj arrives for her annual stay. The Ballroom is currently the only room in the castle that may be viewed by the public.

For the film, the interior of ‘Balmoral’, with its elaborately carved wooden staircase, is Cluny Castle, Sauchen in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Built around1604, Cluny Castle has been owned by three separate branches of Gordon families over the centuries and in the mid-18th century sheltered Jacobite rebels (who wanted to replace King George II with Charles Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie). Between 1820 and 1870 the comparatively small castle was transformed into the crenellated mansion that exists today.

It’s still privately owned and not open to the public, though it hosts corporate events and you can celebrate your wedding in its chapel.

‘Balmoral’s’ bedroom, though, from which the Queen is roused to be told the news is at Blairquhan Castle, Blairquhan near Maybole, South Ayrshire, across on the west coast of Scotland, nearly 200 miles to the southwest of Cluny.

It’s in Blairquhan’s Drawing Room that the family watch the unfolding news on TV and debate whether it’s appropriate for Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) to take a private jet to Paris as Janvrin has to break the sombre news that Diana has died.

Blairquhan, a Regency era castle was the historic home of the Hunter-Blair Baronets until it was sold to a private company in 2012. It remains protected as a category A listed building, open to visitors on occasional days, or by appointment. Its award-winning gardens are open to the public for tours in the summer.

The book-lined study at ‘Balmoral’ in which the Queen takes the phone call from the PM and refuses to make a public statement on the ‘private matter’ is back at Cluny Castle, as are ‘Balmoral’s’ courtyard and exterior.

The Queen filming location: Brocket Hall, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
The Queen location: the ‘Hôpital Pitié-Salpetriere, Paris’: Ravenscourt Park Hospital, Coulter Road, Hammersmith, London W6| Photograph: Wikimedia / Steve Cadman

Charles of course travels to Paris but the ‘Hôpital Pitié-Salpetriere, Paris’, where the distraught prince views Diana’s body, is the severe art deco Ravenscourt Park Hospital, 1 Coulter Road, Hammersmith, London W6. Built in 1933 as the Royal Masonic Hospital, it’s been closed for several years but is due to reopen in 2017.

When Diana’s flag-draped coffin arrives back in the UK, London Southend Airport, Southend-On-Sea, about 40 miles east of London in Essex stands in for ‘RAF Northolt’. Southend Airport previously appeared on-screen in 1963 Bond movie Goldfinger.

The Queen filming location: John Adam Street, London WC2
The exterior of '10 Downing Street': John Adam Street, London WC2

The exterior of ’10 Downing Street’ is 6 John Adam Street, WC2, off the Strand. Part of the Royal Society of Arts, it’s a regular screen lookalike dressed, as it was for The Iron Lady, with Meryl Streep, and for several TV shows, to match the PM’s London residence.

The interior of 'No. 10' was filmed inside 45 Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, London W1.

Despite increasing public concern, the royal family remains stubbornly at Balmoral. The vast Scottish estate with pine forest and spectacular river valley, where Prince Philip (James Cromwell) and the boys go stalking and HM has a poignant encounter with the magnificent 14-point stag, is the Glenfeshie Estate in the Highlands, on the other side of the Cairngorm Mountains from Balmoral, but boasting a similar landscape.

Glenfeshie has been a destination for deer stalking in the early 19th Century but the increasing number of animals bred to be hunted has had a detrimental effect on the ecology of the glen.

To protect the remnants of ancient Caledonian pine forest, the deer which were once encouraged have now been dramatically culled to allow native species such as Scots pine, birch and juniper to regrow. The woodland is gradually creeping up the mountainsides after hundreds of years in retreat.

The area was much loved by artist Edwin Landseer and it’s here in 1851 he painted his most famous work, The Monarch of the Glen.

The garden of ‘Balmoral’ in which HM takes a with the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms), who has little time for “that silly Mr Blair” is Culzean Castle, Maybole, on the South Ayrshire coast about 10 miles west of Blairquhan.

The castle itself and the dramatic view down to the sea were carefully kept off-screen. If you did see the castle, there’s a good chance you might recognise it as the stately pile of Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) in 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man.

Persuaded by Blair, the royal family reluctantly appears in public to inspect floral displays outside the South Gate of Cluny Castle, standing in for the entrance to ‘Balmoral’.

Meanwhile in private, HM is horrified to hear from Philip that the 14-point stag has been shot. The neighbouring estate to which she rushes, only to be confronted with the animal’s decapitated body is Castle Fraser, near Kemnay in Aberdeenshire.

Castle Fraser, which is open to visitors, was completed around 1636, though there’ve been 18th and 19th-century alterations. Its Great Hall, however, does date back to the 1400s.

Once the royals return to London, the Queen and Prince Philip are obliged to inspect more tributes in front of the crowds outside ‘Buckingham Palace’, a scene filmed once again in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

The final capitulation comes when HM agrees to address the nation, though through gritted teeth, with a speech largely rewritten by the government’s savvy PR department.

This TV broadcast, supposedly from the ‘Chinese Room’ of ‘Buckingham Palace’ is given in the Drawing Room of Goldsmith's Hall, Foster Lane, EC2 at Gresham Street in the City of London.

The building has served as the headquarters of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, one of the livery companies of the City of London. It's not generally open to the public, though there may occasionally be open days.

The term ‘hallmark’ comes from the process by which members of the Goldsmiths' Hall once evaluated and stamped precious metals here.

After the funeral, Tony Blair visits HM once more at the ‘Palace’. This may be an artistic decision reflecting the emotional opening up of the monarchy or it may be the unavoidable result of re-shoots but the formal white and gold of the Palace suddenly gives way to a much more sensual and sultry continental look.

The Queen filming location: Waddesdon Manor, Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire
The Queen location: the interior of 'Buckingham Palace': Waddesdon Manor, Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire| Photograph: Wikimedia / Glen Bowman

It’s the interior of Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, another Rothschild home, built this time for Ferdinand de Rothschild, and not at all like Buckingham Palace.

Built in an elaborately French style, Waddesdon is easily passed off as a chateau in Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head, as well as appearing in Never Say Never Again, Isadora, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... and Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows.

Open to the public, the house stands at the west end of Waddesdon village, six miles northwest of Aylesbury on the A41.

For a moment, HM and the PM are back on the staircase at Halton before stepping out into Waddesdon’s Baroque fountain garden.