Shooting stars

Words by:
Charles Williams
Featured in:
September 2013

Whether doubling for Dunkirk, standing in for Westminster Abbey or bringing local history to life, Lincolnshire locations have adapted to play a wide range of screen roles over the last seventy years.
A perfect example of this versatility can be seen in Lincolnshire’s first famous big screen appearance, in the World War II film One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942). Made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, this wartime morale-booster centred on an RAF bomber crew who bale out over Holland, and are helped to escape by the local population. 

The directors needed to find somewhere that resembled the Dutch countryside, and chose Boston and the surrounding area for the role. Among the local landmarks featured in the film are St Botolph’s Church, also known as The Boston Stump, and the swing bridge over the River Haven. Besides being a film location during World War II, The Stump was used as a landmark by both Allied and German pilots on their bombing missions.

War films and Lincolnshire certainly go together. In the romantic drama Atonement (2007), the scenes of battle-scarred Dunkirk were created at the Ice House on Grimsby Docks. Instead of opting for a studio set, the film-makers decided that as Dunkirk is also a dock town, Grimsby’s atmosphere would be perfect. Previously, scenes from skinhead drama This is England (2006) were shot in the same location.

Lincolnshire’s wartime history won its airfields a central part in The Dam Busters (1955), documenting the Guy Gibson-led mission to destroy vital German dams. In real life, this was launched from RAF Scampton, today home to the Red Arrows, and some scenes were shot here. However, the majority of filming took place at RAF Hemswell, the site of Gibson’s last wartime posting.

Local aviation has played its part in other productions, too. RAF Swinderby became a US Marines boot camp in Full Metal Jacket (1987), and East Kirkby’s Aviation Heritage Centre’s filmography includes Ewan and Colin McGregor’s documentary Bomber Boys (2012) and the 2011 Doctor Who Christmas special. Since the latter, ‘The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe’, involved a missing pilot (Andrew Alexander) and his Lancaster bomber, the Centre made its own Lancaster, ‘Just Jane’, available.

The magnificent buildings here are constantly catching the eyes of film-makers. The Jacobethan Harlaxton Manor, now the British campus of the University of Evansville, has been filmed both internally and externally for dramas including Fall of Eagles (1974), a mini-series about the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and German monarchies, and the General Patton biopic The Last Days of Patton (1986), starring George C Scott. In Pride and Prejudice (2005), Elizabethan Burghley House can be seen alongside nearby Stamford (the Georgian stone town doubled as Meryton village). Burghley’s exterior was captured on screen, and the Heaven Room became Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s (Judi Dench) drawing room. This was the latest of a trio of screen versions of Jane Austen’s novel to be filmed in this area: Doddington Hall featured in the 1980 version, and Belton House appears in the 1995 adaptation, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

And no mention of great buildings could ignore Lincoln Cathedral, a fittingly majestic stand-in for Westminster Abbey in The Young Victoria (2009). The cathedral is the backdrop for the coronation of Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt), in a scene that features a cameo from Princess Beatrice of York as one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting. The Duchess of York, her mother, was one of the film’s producers, and Lincolnshire-born Jim Broadbent played King William IV.

Directors are continuing to recognise the potential of local spots. Scenes from the recent third series of ITV’s Downton Abbey were shot at Lincoln Castle, while Cadwell Park racing circuit saw plenty of action earlier last year with the filming of Ron Howard’s Rush. This Formula 1 action film, about the rivalry between Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), is due for release in 2013.

The benefits of such local filming are two-fold: the popularity of ‘set-jetting’, as visiting film locations is known, boosts tourism, and filming is also beneficial financially. According to Stephen Badham, a senior production liaison manager with national filming agency Creative England, local economies can receive in excess of £32,000 per day during the making of a feature film. Earlier last year, Lincolnshire County Council signed a Film Friendly Partnership Charter with Creative England. “TV film and production is an important industry, and contributes millions of pounds into local economies,” said Badham. “That’s why Creative England is developing Film Friendly Partnerships to provide a very strong statement of intent to production companies looking to film in the English regions.”

Add to this development a rich history and impressive, flexible locations and the county’s filming future looks bright. It shouldn’t be too long before Lincolnshire’s shooting stars are on our screens once again.

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