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Mary Queen of Scots movie: behind the scenes of filming at Penshurst Place

If you’re heading to the cinema this weekend to see the new film Mary Queen of Scots, spare a thought for actress Saoirse Ronan.

She “lost” her head dozens of times during film for it in Kent.

The beheading scene for Mary Queen of Scots was filmed at Penshurst Place’s Baron’s Hall. The scene, which was shot in the stripped-back hall featured some 100 English noblemen in full costume filing in to watch the beheading itself - but it took many takes to get the scene perfect.

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Saoirse Ronan as Mary in Mary Queen of Scots Picture: PA Photo/Focus Features LLC/Liam Daniel
Saoirse Ronan as Mary in Mary Queen of Scots Picture: PA Photo/Focus Features LLC/Liam Daniel

Filming for the movie, which stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as her cousin Elizabeth I, who eventually signed her death warrant, took place at the historic house acting as Fotheringhay Castle, where Mary was held prisoner.

Fourteenth century Penshurst’s own history dates back far enough that Elizabeth I was a regular visitor in the 1500s and the Queen Elizabeth Room, which visitors can see, was named after her, as she often held audience there.

Penshurst Place in the winter
Penshurst Place in the winter

Filming took place in October 2017 with the normal fittings in the Baron’s Hall removed, such as stag heads, helmets and tapestries, with only the original medieval trestle tables left in place and the hall was closed. Some windows had to be blacked out and filming took place from the Minstrels’ Gallery.

The scene involved the noblemen processing from the King’s Tower, across the Inner Courtyard, into the area under the gallery.

Staff and volunteers at Penshurst, however, are used to film crews arriving.

The Baron's Hall at Penshurst Place
The Baron's Hall at Penshurst Place

General manager Ben Thomas said: “It is a great honour for Penshurst Place to be featured in the new Mary Queen of Scots film.

“We enjoyed welcoming the actors and film crew last year, and it’s always exciting to see locations such as the impressive Baron’s Hall really step back in time when transformed by the production team.

The Baron’s Hall was visited by the director and her assistant on many occasions prior to filming, and was the perfect size to create a grand yet intimate scene for what will surely become one of the film’s most pivotal moments.”

Margot Robbie is transformed as Queen Elizabeth I. Picture: PA Photo/Focus Features LLC/Liam Daniel
Margot Robbie is transformed as Queen Elizabeth I. Picture: PA Photo/Focus Features LLC/Liam Daniel

The film tells the tale of cousins Mary and Elizabeth, with Elizabeth forced to go to war to protect her crown. As both attempted to rule as women in a man’s world, their conflict would change the course of history.

In cinemas across Kent from Friday, January 18, Mary Queen of Scots has recently been nominated for three Baftas.

DETAILS

Mary Queen of Scots (15) is released in cinemas in Kent on Friday, January 18. Penshurst Place opens from February. Visit penshurstplace.com

Jack Lowden as Lord Darnley, Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart and James McArdle as Earl of Moray in Mary Queen of Scots, filmed in part at Penshurst Place Picture: Liam Daniel/Focus Features
Jack Lowden as Lord Darnley, Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart and James McArdle as Earl of Moray in Mary Queen of Scots, filmed in part at Penshurst Place Picture: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

THE FILM

Mary Queen of Scots is based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by Dr John Guy.

Mary, Queen of France at 16 but widowed at 18, defies pressure to remarry, instead returning to her native Scotland to reclaim her throne. But Scotland and England fall under the rule of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I, played by Margot Robbie.

It is the latest in an impressive list of film and television roles for Penshurst Place that includes Wolf Hall, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Hollow Crown.

General manager Ben added: “Penshurst Place has been privileged to work with a multitude of television and film productions over the years, and each new production brings with it its own set of challenges and thrills. It is always a joy to see the staterooms and gardens transformed for each individual project, surrounded by the keen hustle and bustle of the crew.”

The Baron’s Hall is no stranger to beheadings as it has been used to depict Anne Boleyn’s before.

Margot Robbie stars
Margot Robbie stars

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