Ely Cathedral transformed for Netflix drama The Crown depicting the wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
- Credit: Archant
Ely Cathedral is once again the set of a major production - this time, a 10-part Netflix drama re-enacting the wedding day of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip 68 years ago.
The Crown, which stars former Doctor Who Matt Smith, Wolf Hall actress Claire Foy and Oscar nominated John Lithgow, is the sixth major production to film scenes at the cathedral in the past nine years.
In that time, the cathedral has welcomed what would read as, quite possibly, the most illustrious cast ever assembled: Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth, Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Scarlet Johansson, Kirstin Scott Thomas, Eric Bana, Eddie Redmayne, Derek Jacobi, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth and Geoffrey Rush.
Speaking to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, director of communications and commerce Lesley Ann Thompson said: “We are very busy. We are no stranger to films - this is our sixth big film here. We are very fortunate, it’s quite amazing the interest in Ely as a location. That says as much about the city and what it has to offer as the cathedral.
“Our first film was Elizabeth: Golden Age. The supervising location manager on the Harry Potter films, Sue Quinn, came to visit Ely Cathedral. She didn’t use us but she mentioned us to the location manager on Elizabeth: Golden Age and said ‘why don’t you try there?’
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“We’ve certainly got a reputation as being film friendly and discreet, and the building itself is just stunning. “Once all the furnishings inside are stripped away it creates a beautiful blank canvas for film companies to use.”
The films are a source of excitement, but the cathedral’s priority is worship, Mrs Thompson says.
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She said: “There are times when we are closed to or have restricted access for visitors, but we are always open for worship.
“Regardless of what film is going on, there are always three services a day taking place - these are absolutely sacrosanct. We are, first and foremost, a Christian place of worship. It’s really important to stick to that.”
Mrs Thompson says the film’s stars are left in peace to focus on their roles, another thing which could explain why film crews keep coming back.
She said: “We don’t interrupt them. They are learning lines and filming, at times, can be tough. We’ve found all the cast and crew here have been lovely, friendly and respectful of the cathedral.
“Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum created a lot of excitement outside with young fans.”
With the cathedral receiving no government, and minimal, Church of England funding, they need to find all the ways they can to boost their income.
She said: “In the past couple of years, we’ve been carrying out work on two transepts, with each project costing upwards of £500,000.
“We can only spend what we make. Financially, we have to stand alone, so any income we can get in helps us to keep the building intact.”
FILMS SHOT AT ELY CATHEDRAL (date of filming)
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (May-June 2006)
The cathedral provided the setting for the sequel to the 1998 award winning film ‘Elizabeth’, starring double Oscar winner Cate Blanchett.
In the film, the cathedral was used to represent the Palace of Whitehall, which was the main residence of the English monarchs in London from 1530 until 1698.
Ely was the film’s biggest external location and many key scenes were filmed here.
The Other Boleyn Girl (August 2007)
The film, a romanticised account of the lives of 16th-century aristocrats Mary Boleyn, one-time mistress of King Henry VIII, and her sister, Anne, who became the monarch’s ill-fated second wife, starred Natalie Portman, Scarlet Johansson, Kirstin Scott Thomas and Eric Bana.
The King’s Speech (November-December 2009)
The Octagon crossing and front of the nave were transformed into the interior of Westminster Abbey at the time of the coronation of King George VI.
Actual filming took place over three days with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Derek Jacobi on set.
The scene they shot at Ely is a pivotal moment in the film, It is the eve of the coronation and George VI (Colin Firth) is taken to Westminster Abbey by his speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), to practice his all important coronation speech.
The film was a triumph, with Colin Firth winning an Oscar.
Jupiter Ascending (April 2013)
This American–Australian space opera starred Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne and Douglas Booth.
Macbeth (March 2014)
A British drama film, based on William Shakespeare’s play of the same name, with Michael Fassbender in the title role and Marion Cotillard as his wife.
The film was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.