Behind the scenes filming Darkest Hour
Joe Wright’s film stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in the spring of 1940, when the wartime leader was under pressure to make peace with Hitler as his armies advanced across Europe.
“As the film is based on real events that took place in actual locations, the obvious choice was to first approach those locations,” says Adam Richards, the film’s supervising location manager, in comments to The Knowledge.
“Number 10 Downing Street, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Treasury, the Houses of Parliament, etc. Luckily for us, they all agreed to help with the filming.”
The chamber of the House of Commons as it looked during the war was built on a stage at Warners Bros Studios Leavesden near London.
Producers were in fact offered the chance to film in the actual Palace of Westminster, but decided against it.
“A set was built because the [modern chamber] that you see today was actually built in the 1950s due to bomb damage during the war,” says Richards. “It wouldn’t have been architecturally correct to use the existing chamber.”
Filming did take place outside the real Palace of Westminster, with access granted to the production team primarily because of the movie’s subject matter.
Other key set builds included the Cabinet War Rooms, an underground London complex that was used as a command centre during the war. The real location is now a tourist attraction and the production team would not have been able to get the access and control they wanted over a two-week period, so stage work was a necessity.
The real Downing Street was filmed as a location, but Wright and his team were not allowed to make physical changes to the location so the specific visuals had to be altered in post-production to reflect how it looked in 1940.
“I doubt whether we would have got permission to shoot directly out the front of Number 10, or have Gary Oldman coming out through the front door, had the subject matter not been about Churchill,” says Richards.
A location was also required as a stand in for Buckingham Palace for scenes where Churchill meets with King George VI.
Somerset House on the south side of The Strand is commonly used as a stand-in for Buckingham Palace interiors but Wright and his team wanted a location less commonly seen. Wentworth House in South Yorkshire was chosen instead for these scenes, while nearby Branham Park doubled for Downing Street.
“Some of the interiors of the Houses of Parliament were filmed up in Manchester Town Hall and also in the John Rylands Library in Manchester,” says Richards.
“Brodsworth Hall, an English Heritage property, doubled as a bedroom at Number 10 where Churchill and the King meet. The only challenge was finding enough hotel bedrooms for the crew to stay in whilst filming away from home.”
Images: Jack English/Focus Features
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