Starring role for Ely Cathedral as £100million Netflix drama The Crown hits screens
It cost £100million to make, it's one of the most eagerly anticipated series of the year and a Cambridgeshire landmark is one of its stars.
The Crown, a 10-part drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, is now showing on Netflix.
It is billed as telling the inside story of two of the most famous addresses in the world - Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street - and the intrigues, love lives and machinations behind the great events that shaped the second half of the 20th century.
Filming for the spectacular wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip took place at Ely Cathedral - which is no stranger to hosting film crews, having also been the location for other regal dramas such as The King’s Speech and Elizabeth: The Golden Age,
Taking the place of Westminster Abbey, where the 1947 wedding took place before 2,000 invited guests and worldwide audience of millions, Ely Cathedral welcomed stars including Wolf Hall actress Claire Foy, who plays Elizabeth II, and former Doctor Who Matt Smith, who plays Prince Philip.
The crew behind the ambitious production went to great lengths to ensure authenticity, with a stunning replica of the emerald and gold Irish State Coach, drawn by grey horses tended by footmen in red jackets, and a copy of the 21-year-old princess’ Norman Hartnell-designed dress evident to the watching crowds who filled the streets of Ely to catch a glimpse of the filming.
Onlookers were treated to views of Foy wearing the duchesse satin bridal gown with its star lily and orange blossom motifs, crystals, 10,000 seed pearls and 13ft train with embroidered jasmine and lilac blosooms - said to be inspired by Botticell’s Primavera painting from 1482. Like all post-war brides, the young princess had to save ration coupons for the material to buy the dress, with the government offering an additional 200. Netflix, the US video-on-demand service, will have had no such complications as it splashed a huge budget on the production.
Foy’s Elizabeth was supported by eight bridesmaids dressed in white with long, white gloves, floral headbands and pale bouquets, and she was helped out of the coach by Jared Harris, playing the Queen’s father, King George VI.
A line of soldiers saluted as Foy made her way into the cathedral. Foy’s long brown hair was arranged in Her Majesty’s style, and she carried a large bouquet of white flowers.
Pretend newspaper photographers were on set - along with genuine ones taking images of the spectacular scenes for the regional and national press.
Among them was the Cambridge Independent’s own picture editor, Keith Heppell, who recalled: “TV and film productions try their best to keep photographers away from filming. Being able to get into the former Bishop’s Place gave me a magnificent view of proceedings and the rest was patience. Eventually the coach arrived with Claire Foy. As she got out of the coach there was a small window of opportunity – just a few seconds – to get the shots.”
The wedding was intended to lift the country’s spirits after the Second World War.
In a making-of featurette just released, director Stephen Daldry said: “It’s not just the story of a family, it’s the story of post-War Britain.”
Matt Smith said the series, due to run for six seasons of 10 episodes each, “strips away the mask” that the royal family wear in public.
“We get to see them be human and exposed,” he added.
Foy and Smith are joined by Interstellar’s John Lithgow, who plays Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Victoria Hamilton as the Queen Mother, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary.
The cast were also seen filming outside Southwark Cathedral in south London and the Lyceum Theatre in the West End.
But few scenes will create such excitement as those filmed in Ely’s magnificent cathedral.
:: Cathedral credits
Ely Cathedral has become very popular with filmmakers in the last decade. Here are some of the films shot there.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Replacing the Palace of Whitehall, the London residence of English monachs from 1530-1698, Ely Cathedral can be seen in this sequel to Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett. It was used as the primary external location for the film in June 2006.
The Other Boleyn Girl
Adapted from the novel, Peter Morgan’s screenplay is a tale of intrigue, romance and betrayal starring Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife, and Scarlett Johansson, as her sister Mary, who became the king’s mistress and therefore rival to her sibling. Eric Bana plays the king. The cathedral played host to the crew in August 2007.
The King’s Speech
The cathedral was again used in place of Westminster Abbey in this acclaimed film, for which Colin Firth won an Oscar for his portrayal of King George VI.
The Octagon crossing and front of the nave used for the Abbey’s interior at the time of the coronation. The cast, also including Geoffrey Rush and Derek Jacobi, were present for three days in November and December 2009.
In April 2013, a big budget Warner Bros sci-fi starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne and Douglas Booth utilised the 12th-century cathedral, causing much excitement in Ely as fans gathered to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood A-listers.
This British film adapatation of the Shakespeare tragedy, with Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, used the Lady Chapel for scenes and local residents were given the chance to be extras.
The cathedral has also been featured in the TV series How Britain was Built and the BBC and ITV production BAFTA presents Michael Palin: A Life in Pictures.