Aug 30, 2009

Withering Rose: Inspiration: Richmond Palace Research

There is next to nothing available online about what Richmond Palace might of looked liked inside. Luckily I did fall upon an interview with Director Tom Hooper, in which he talks about recreating Whitehall Palace for the HBO movie Elizabeth 1. You can read the entire article here.

Tom Hooper: I was very excited to recreate Whitehall as accurately as possibly because when I began working on the films I turned up through research some great old maps of Whitehall, and drawings and sketches relating to that period. And I began to ask myself why don't we just build exactly what we see here? What would be the reason to invent something, and wouldn't it unlock secrets and truths about Elizabeth if we did get it absolutely right?

And it was very exciting because the set designer Eve Stewart absolutely embraced this concept and we embarked on a very ambitious project of a very faithful recreation of the Palace of Whitehall on really quite an immense scale.

And I think one of the things we unlocked through that is this sort of realist truth of her surroundings was what I'd call the hierarchy of space in her palace. In studying the layout of Whitehall, which is the main London palace, we realized that the way space was arranged was all about what level of privileged access you had to the Queen. And so we built a continuous interior set that allowed me to show the way space was charged with hierarchy.

As you come into the palace you go through a public area, which pretty much anyone can gain access to. And then you come across a guarded entrance to the presence chamber which is the big yellow room with the famous hallway painting of Henry VIII above Elizabeth's throne. And the presence chamber was sort of like the first level of access to the Queen; this is where she would meet dignitaries and ambassadors, where she would be consulted about petitions from commoners, so it wasn't public, it was controlled but when she was there she was always on show. It wasn't a very intimate circle.

Then as you passed through the doors of the presence chamber, you come into the privy gallery which is a long gallery with rooms off and this is her privy or private space. This is a space which really only her ladies in waiting, her lovers, and her privy counselors have access to, and we're very careful in the film to never show anyone other than those characters in this space.

And off the privy gallery, you have the privy chamber which is a meeting room a bit like the presence chamber but much smaller, much more intimate. And this is where she receives only her most intimate circle. And then you have this whole suite of rooms leading up to her bedchambers: her music room, her study, the bathing chamber which is where she bathed and her bedroom. And obviously no one of her counselors would go to any of her bedrooms. The only males who have access to her bedroom suite were Essex and Leicester.

And the more time I spent studying the period, the more I realized was that the arrangement of the space was absolutely key to understanding the monarchy and by defining what rooms you got access to, it defined your status.

And so I was very interested in connecting all this up and making a coherent presentation of the world. And out of this came a desire to use the steady camera extensively in the film because it seemed to demonstrate that this tension in space required the camera to be able to fluidly travel with Elizabeth through any room she might wander. So we could connect up these rooms because obviously if you keep filming one room and a character walks out and you cut and pick up in another room, you don't understand the relationships. And there were some wonderful shots where the steady cam shows the way the parts connect together.

So really what was driving me was to create a tremendously strong sense of geography, that every door led somewhere, to create a sense for the audience of a virtual reality tour through the past rather than a sort of pantomimic version of the past where famous actresses dressed up in costumes and you don't for a moment think you're back in that reality. And I felt capturing the physical space accurately was tremendously important.

And also I wanted to rather than visualize the world through the prism of the threat that faced her, I wanted to show the world that she was fighting to protect. In other words, a world of tremendous finery and beauty that came out of her tremendous wealth. And this was the lifestyle that she was aiming to protect through dealing with the threats that faced her. And it was a world of tremendous beauty.

What's interesting is there's not a lot of squalid London in the two films. And that was a conscious decision because I think she did everything in her power to avoid them. She wanted to live in a world of color and beauty and the finest things in life.

HBO: You used computer generated imaging to recreate several sets. Tell us about that process.

Tom Hooper: We made extensive use of CGI. And the shot I'm most proud of is when we go into the River Thames and we see London laid out before us. That shot was literally the grassy banks of a Lithuanian lake. There was not a single building there, and we created the whole of that view through computers. So CGI was also a very exciting way of realizing that world.

It's also incredibly exciting as a Londoner to be able to say, well what did London really look like, and let's create some wide shots where we really see London in the 1580s as it looked then. And what's so exciting for me as a filmmaker about the use of CGI in this film was the chance to go back into the past, and finally properly show people what London really looked like back then. For me, that was tremendously exciting.