Honey-hued villages. Historic old mansions. Towering cathedral spires, and woolly white sheep grazing in green fields or upon snow-dusted slopes, a terrestrial reflection of cotton candy clouds suspended in a cerulean sky.
The bucolic beauty of the English Cotswolds is so improbably alluring at any time of year, they might have been built on a Hollywood backlot. It’s hardly surprising, then, that filmmakers flock to this photogenic swathe of twee stone towns. The region dips and rolls across south central England, encompassing Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire as it unfurls over 90 miles from south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath.
Oxford is the main setting for the British crime mystery drama “Inspector Morse,” and its two spin-off series, “Inspector Lewis” and “Endeavor.”
The village of Bampton doubled as Downton, where the beleaguered Grantham family’s triumphs and tragedies played out over six seasons on “Downton Abbey.” Winston Churchill’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace, and its gardens have appeared in films like The Young Victoria and Disney’s 2015 remake of Cinderella.
A snowy Snowshill provided a picturesque Christmas backdrop in the original Bridget Jones’s Diary, while Chavenage House (also featured in “Poldark”), Berkeley Castle, and Gloucester Cathedral all played supporting roles in the superb “Wolf Hall.”
That list barely scratches the celluloid surface of the Cotswolds’ impressive reel of credits.
In fact, Gloucester Cathedral has appeared in so many productions, including the Harry Potter franchise, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and “Sherlock,” that I expect it’s now demanding its own dressing room complete with an albino monkey named Gary, two dozen rare orchids gathered by Tibetan monks under the light of a blood moon, and a hypoallergenic solid-gold toilet that flushes pure Evian. (more…)
Two footmen in powdered white wigs and red and gold livery stand at attention beside a pair of French doors, through which Great Britain’s royal family is expected to enter at any moment to greet the press. But when those doors finally do open, it’s not Queen Elizabeth and her House of Windsor posse who parade through the regal portal. It’s the UK’s other royal family—Queen Helena, King Cyrus, Princess Eleanor, Prince Liam and their bodyguard, Jasper—stars of the E! hit television show “The Royals.”
The cast is here on an elaborate stage set near central London to promote the upcoming third series, which debuts on December 4. For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s like “Dynasty” meets Buckingham Palace, replete with scheming, bed-hopping, cheeky humor, gorgeous clothes…and Joan Collins, as an imperious matriarch.
Elizabeth Hurley stars as Queen Helena, Collins’ daughter and the mother of Alexandra Park’s Eleanor (a.k.a. Len), the rebel princess who never met a substance she wouldn’t drink or snort, and William Moseley’s Liam, a down-to-earth prince of the people. Jake Maskall is the deliciously devious King Cyrus, brother of Queen Helena’s late husband, King Simon. Tom Austen rounds out the main cast as the secretive Jasper, the hunk with the steely blue gaze who is keen to guard Len’s body in the most intimate way possible.
Hurley takes the lead as they enter, working her way down a receiving line of reporters, with a beaming smile, a handshake (a familiarity which the “real” Queen Elizabeth would never permit), and a few friendly words. “Didn’t I meet you before on the red carpet?” she asks one journalist, leaving her slack-jawed with surprise. “Uh, no,” the woman stammers, both flattered and flustered. “That wasn’t me.”
While Hurley’s posh tones and impeccable elegance mirror that of her character, her manner is far from Queen Helena’s icy haughtiness. As I sit down for a chat with Hurley, who is pristine in a white knee-length lace dress, she’s quick to dish about some of her favorite moments on set, recalling one “killer line” from Season Two. (more…)
Most visitors to London make a beeline for Buckingham Palace, but down a non-descript road seven miles to the east, there lies another famous royal palace cleverly disguised within a handful of old warehouses squatting upon a gray asphalt lot. One can only conjecture about what intrigues take place at Queen Elizabeth’s gilded residences, but the treachery and sexual exploits that occur within these walls are laid bare every week for television audiences. I’m referring, of course, to the E! hit series “The Royals,” starring Elizabeth Hurley, which returns with its third season on December 4.
Show creator Mark Schwahn, clad in a gray T-shirt and slacks, brown suede jacket and lace-up boots, is leading a bevy of reporters on a behind-the-scenes tour of the set, which encompasses four sound stages. “We try to use as much of the lot as possible,” he explains, bounding down an alleyway that has featured in a paparazzi chase scene and as the exterior of both a pet clinic and London’s Natural History Museum. (more…)
Tom Cruise. Kevin Spacey. Beyoncé. Jay-Z. John Malkovich. Richard Gere. Catherine Zeta-Jones. Michael Douglas. Oh, and pretty much the entire cast of “Game of Thrones.”
No, that’s not a list of celebrities who have been papped tumbling tipsily out of taxis, or who eat only organic macrobiotic algae or insist on traveling with an albino pet monkey named Zoolander. Rather, it’s a red carpet rundown of stars who have been spotted in one of Europe’s hottest destinations—the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, abutting the Adriatic Sea. (more…)
With the airing of Downton Abbey’s final episode, avid viewers may be feeling bereft. But take heart. You can still follow in the footsteps of your favorite footmen, comely maids and high-spirited heiresses when you head to England to tour this hit series’ most atmospheric film locations.
Devon, England: On an isolated promontory above the River Dart, a Georgian mansion hunkers down amid dense, tangled woods and gardens.
Tucked well away from any major road, it seems like the perfect place for a murder. In fact, it’s been the scene of several.
One man perished of hemlock poisoning in the garden. A girl was strangled in the boathouse, and a body was once concealed in a studded chest that dominates the hallway.
Fortunately, those dark deeds took place only in the fertile imagination of Agatha Christie, who featured her holiday home, Greenway, in Five Little Pigs, Dead Man’s Folly, and Ordeal by Innocence. The trunk was also a key element in her short story The Mystery of the Spanish Chest.
Located half an hour south of Torquay, the “English Riviera” town where Christie was born on September 15, 1890, Greenway will look familiar to fans of the Hercule Poirot mysteries. David Suchet, who played the brilliant, mustachioed Belgian detective for 13 seasons, filmed one of his last episodes, “Dead Man’s Folly,” here in 2013.
But beyond the macabre thrill of finding yourself at a fictional murder scene, visitors to the home have a rare opportunity to read between the lines and ferret out fascinating clues about the famous—and famously shy—Dame Agatha. (more…)
If you’ve ever dreamed of walking in the wingtips of the world’s sexiest super spy–or tottering along in the sky-high stilettos of a Bond babe–read on for a list of Great Britain’s most 007-worthy adventures. Whether you’re burning up the road in an Aston Martin—or burning big bucks on London’s aptly-named Bond Street–these top six tips will leave you feeling more stirred than shaken.
Up at the O2 (more…)
With 50 years experience in the film industry, John Richardson makes movie magic look as simple as a wave of the wand. He served as special effects supervisor on all eight Harry Potter films and also worked on such iconic film franchises as the James Bond movies, Superman, and Alien, for which he won an Academy Award in 1986.
Recently, he paused for a chat on Platform 9 3/4, the latest Harry Potter set to be installed at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. The new addition, which features the original Hogwarts Express steam train, opens March 19.
Richardson talks about making wizards fly, the pitfalls of computer generated effects, and the one item he most wishes he could’ve taken home from the set. Watch our interview on YouTube here:
To see my interview with Mark Williams, who played Mr. Weasley, click here: http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=4163
For more on the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, click here: http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=770
Pack your trunks. Round up your rats, and get ready for a new wand-waggling adventure. On March 19, 2015, Harry Potter’s own Hogwarts Express steams onto a resurrected Platform 9 3/4 at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London.
I had a track-side chat with Mark Williams, a.k.a. Mr. Weasley, about movies, memories and magic.
For more info on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London and “The Making of Harry Potter” experience, check out my story: http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=770
LEAVESDEN, ENGLAND: I’m whizzing over the Thames, the wind in my face, so close that I can dip my hands in the water. Then suddenly, not of my own volition, I’m soaring heavenwards, only to rocket back down to earth moments later, dodging cars and buses on London’s busy streets. Oh, and did I mention, I’m riding a broom?
Boarding a bucking Nimbus 2000 in front of a special effects green screen is just one of the hands (or in this case, bottoms) on attractions at the “Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter” experience in Leavesden, 20 miles northwest of London.
Unlike the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, the U.K. doesn’t feature theme park rides like roller coasters.
Instead, Leavesden offers a true behind-the-scenes look at the Harry Potter movies, which were primarily shot on a soundstage next door.
It embraces 170,000 square feet of space bursting with the actual sets, costumes, props and magical machines, including the original Hogwarts Express steam engine, parked alongside a recreated Platform 9 3/4.
As the French Riviera celebrates the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival, fasten your seat belts for a whirlwind ride along the Cote d’Azur.
“Belle! Belle!” a man calls out from a corner café as I round a bend in my 1956 Porsche 356 Speedster. Whether his hoot of approval and accompanying wolf whistle are for me or, more likely, for my rented wheels hardly matters. With the top down and the sunshine of the French Riviera casting a golden glow across the landscape, I’m smiling ear-to-ear either way.
I only hope I’m out of sight when I stall the car on a slope, the gears grinding and growling like an angry grizzly as I try to cajole the temperamental stick shift back into first.
Never mind. I’m going to enjoy my movie star moment, ensconced in a red bucket leather seat as I clear the coast and head into the pine-scented hills.
This is silver screen country, after all, where dozens of seminal films have been shot since the 1950s.
My hired ride from Rent a Classic Car is the same model favored by James Dean, and my hair is pulled back into a wind-defying blonde bun, a la Grace Kelly. All that’s missing from this picture is Cary Grant…and a snazzy score by Henry Mancini to drown out the carnage I’m inflicting on the motor.
Cruising in a vintage car is the perfect complement to my cinematic tour of the Cote d’Azur, which will take me from Cannes to the ridiculously picturesque mountaintop village of Eze, with stops in Antibes, St. Paul de Vence, Nice, and Villefranche-sur-Mer along the way. (more…)
Boyd. Bill Boyd. Okay, so the name may not ring a bell—yet—but British author William Boyd is certainly stirring up a media storm with the recent publication of Solo, the 45th novel featuring the world’s sexiest superspy, James Bond. (Sorry, Jason Bourne).
Solo is set in 1969, the same year that “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” starring George Lazenby was released. Eager to undertake my own double-O exploits, I head to the jagged Swiss Alps to follow in the stealthy footsteps of Lazenby’s Bond.
Interlaken, Switzerland–“Okay, get ready. Run!” Heart pounding, I heed the command, leaning forward as I break into a jog, feeling the hot breath of a stranger on my neck. Seconds later, as my orange-and-white paraglider catches the breeze, I’m like a cartoon character treading thin air.
The rolling foothills of the Alps quickly recede beneath me, and the palm-sweating terror I felt just moments ago is replaced with goggle-eyed awe. As the silent pilot strapped in behind me maneuvers us towards an updraft, following a pair of circling hawks, the only sound I hear is the wind rushing in my ears.
At 7,500 feet above the chilly blue-green waters of Lake Thun, the quaint Alpine chalets below resemble Monopoly houses on a field of velvet, and my feet dangle above–ABOVE!–snowcapped peaks. Glancing down, I feel as if I’m orbiting the earth in a swing.
Just as I’m beginning to feel at home in my airborne perch, strapped atop the lap of a blue-eyed enigma who holds my life in his hands, he motions to the right. There, fifty yards away, another paraglider has swooped alongside–and he is SHOOTING at us. (more…)