Production Diaries of The Golden Age
It's 3 AM in central London - dark and quiet except for the odd car and the hum of generators huddled round the outside of Westminster Cathedral. But here, inside, light is flooding in through the windows as though it was midday. And in the minds of the 150 or so people here it is midday and this isn't London, it's the Escorial Palace in Spain in the year 1588. King Philip II of Spain, the most powerful man in the world, is about to tell his ministers that he now has the right to invade England - the Spanish Armada is about to be launched.
But this isn't a dream, it's a movie and as the historical researcher on this and Elizabeth before it, it's a paradox I'm getting used to. People often ask me if the films I work on are 'true' - if they are 'what really happened' so on this blog I'm hoping to explain over the next few weeks of shooting a little of how history and drama are blended to make this movie, how 'Golden Age' is not simply about making a documentary but interpreting the past through dialogue and metaphor something we can all do and the thing that makes history matter to every generation.
2nd May 2006 - Hatfield House Hertfordshire
Out on location at Hatfield House but today we're using this as the home of Mary Queen of Scots, and Hatfield House has become Chartley Hall to introduce her to the story.
By the time of our film Mary had already been in captivity in England for 18 years, being moved between houses and placed under the care of various wardens (whom she would no doubt have called jailors). We first meet her in the very early stages of the Babington Plot. In January 1586 she had been moved to Chartley Hall and it was here that her final, deadly correspondence with Anthony Babington began.
The problem we have in telling Mary's story is it's sheer scope and complexity - there simply isn't time to go into detail of her childhood in France, her three marriages, her flight to England or the first 18 years of her captivity here so much of this has to be just suggested in the scenes at Chartley and Fotheringhay where we meet her.
4th May 2006 - Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, London
One of the pivotal moments in the film is being shot today in this beautiful 12th century church - the execution by beheading of Mary Queen of Scots.
Mary was executed on the morning of 8th February, 1587 at the now ruined castle of Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire in a scene of high drama. She had only been told of her impending death the previous evening after dinner but, being aware that she had been condemned in a cursory trial the previous October, she had prepared herself for a spectacular and iconic death.
We have to condense the three horrific, magnificent last three hours of Mary's life into just few minutes of film so the filmmakers have picked the key moments from the recorded events and woven them into a master shot that sees Mary enter, ignoring the Protestant prayers of the Dean of Peterborough, mount the scaffold, disrobe revealing the crimson shift - the colour of Catholic martyrdom - beneath her black dress, grant her executioner forgiveness and place her head on the block.
Even though it's a film the scene has a startling effect on both the crew and the 100+ actors and extras in the room. Despite the lights and cameras I think most of us feel we are actually witnessing the execution. Over this silent scene rises the musical theme AR Rahman has composed for the movie, which arrived only this morning and which director Shekhar Kapur has asked for on playback during the scene. It echoes round the ancient walls of the church as Mary takes her last steps. We don't see the moment of her death - we don't need to. Mary has approached her last hours as a queen and she dies a queen.
Read the rest of Justion Pollard's production diaries at Working Title