November 20, 2023
Out in cinemas today, Ridley Scott’s latest film takes us on a cinematic journey into the rise and fall of one of France’s most infamous historical figures: Napoleon. With Joaquin Phoenix in the leading role, Napoleon chronicles the conquests, battles, and private life of the Emperor through the prism of his relationship with his wife, Joséphine Bonaparte (played by Vanessa Kirby).
Between 1770 and 1820, Napoleon made ground across France, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia; leading in the battles of Toulon, Austerlitz and Waterloo. To recreate these epic locations and battle scenes, the film’s production team scouted across England and Malta – with most of the filming taking place in England across the East Midlands and South East.
Filming in England were contacted by the Napoleon team in March 2022 to support with location briefs and liaise with local authority contacts. Joely Ellis, Production Liaison Manager for the East & South East, comments:
“The Filming in England team are proud to have worked on Napoleon, which serves as a great example of the outstanding international doubles on offer across the English Regions. I worked on a number of enquiries, supporting the Locations Department by coordinating national location enquiries and putting them in touch with the correct people on the ground.
Congratulations to all those involved in the film, we can’t wait to see this on the big screen!”
Steve Mortimore is a Supervising Location Manager working in the UK and internationally. His credits include the likes of Wonder Woman 1984, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and now Napoleon. He spoke to us about how the Locations Department scouted the locations that helped bring the story to life:
“It is rare these days that you get the opportunity to film such an epic 100% on location. When I started Napoleon in April 2021, we were still in the midst of heavy Covid restrictions, so you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to read this story of such monumental proportion. On initially reading the script I assumed that the bulk of it would be filmed in France, together with some Studio set builds, so as someone who loves a challenge my interest was heightened when I was informed by the Producers that the majority of filming was planned for UK locations with no set builds whatsoever.
We worked closely with Filming in England from the outset and scouted pretty much the entire country, hitting most counties across England and then moving into Scotland and Wales, it was an arduous recce road trip. Eventually we set ourselves on filming in the counties of – Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, West Sussex, Hampshire, and Surrey, plus many central London locations.
It is incredible what you can recreate here across the UK, depicting period France, Austria, Italy, Netherlands and Russia. We really were a travelling circus of mammoth scale, transporting hundreds of horses and period artist costumes, weaponry, and props around the UK with us, quite a memorable project for the locations team to facilitate, one we will not forget in a hurry.”
Join us as we take a closer look at the locations used in Napoleon.
Lincoln Cathedral, Lincolnshire
First built in 1072, Lincoln Cathedral is a magnificent piece of gothic architecture which doubles Notre-Dame in Paris, where Napoleon and his wife Josephine were coronated.
Filming in England Partnership members Lincoln Cathedral have hosted period features The King and Young Victoria prior to Napoleon – we spoke to Samantha Mellows, Director of Visitor Experience and Enterprise at Lincoln Cathedral, about playing a part in the production:
“Lincoln Cathedral was delighted to be chosen to be a location for Ridley Scott’s Napoleon. While a couple of scenes were filmed here, we were honoured to be the setting of the main coronation scene. The Cathedral Choir sung for the scene too – an incredible experience for all involved and we cannot wait to see our wonderful building and choir on the big screen.”
Boughton House, Northamptonshire
Sitting in an estate of over 11,000 acres, Boughton House is a stately home in Kettering, Northamptonshire. Originally a Tudor building, Boughton House’s inheritor Ralph Montagu expanded the house into a French architectural masterpiece, resulting in its reputation as ‘The English Versailles’.
The perfect double for a French chateau, Boughton was used as Napoleon’s own estate when the production team filmed there in March 2022.
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Blenheim Palace is a country house in Woodstock with a wide range of film credits to its name, including blockbuster franchises James Bond, Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible.
Its neoclassical, Palladian-style architecture makes it a magnificent double for France and it features in the film as Napoleon’s staterooms in the Fontainebleau and Tuileries Palaces. Heather Carter, Managing Director at Blenheim Palace, comments:
“We were delighted to have welcomed Sir Ridley Scott and his team and are honoured that Blenheim Palace is featured as a backdrop for what we know will be a hugely popular film. Not only is it a great opportunity for people to see the beautiful Palace and its grounds, which the whole team work so hard to preserve in such a unique setting, but filming like this helps provide vital income for our charity which is dedicated to funding important ongoing restoration projects and community initiatives such as our ongoing apprenticeship scheme.
“We cannot wait to see the end result when we watch the take on the classic story and such an important piece of history.”
Petworth House, West Sussex
Owned by the National Trust, Petworth House is a 17th century house and park in West Sussex which homes a historic collection of paintings and sculptures. In Napoleon, the house was used for interiors scenes of The Victim’s Ball and Chateau de Beauharnais (Napoleon’s wife Josephine’s residence).
Shooting The Victim’s Ball scene involved 120 extras and a significant set transformation. We heard from Harvey Edgington, Senior Filming and Locations Manager at National Trust, about the shoot:
“Petworth was the location chosen for the Chateau de Beauharnais as well as the Victims Ball. The Victims ball being a celebration with a quasi-pornographic play, sexual cavorting, smoking, drinking, gambling and dancing. So, streamers, party debris and people had to be tastefully and carefully draped around the house and the collection.
We removed over 190 artefacts including paintings involving 21 specialists taking about 6 days and naturally had to close the property. All of this at a time when covid testing was enforced on all crew and staff. In the end everything went smoothly and nothing was damaged in the choreographed debauchery.”
Bourne Woods, Surrey
Bourne Woods is a large woodland set above a vast heathland clearing, owned and managed by Forestry England. Napoleon isn’t the first Ridley Scott production to have filmed in Bourne Woods, with 2000’s Gladiator filming at the site in 1999.
We spoke to Caroline Wright, Filming and Events Manager at Forestry England, about welcoming Ridley Scott and his team back:
“Forestry England was delighted to host filming for Napoleon at the Bourne Wood in Surrey. The filming left a positive experience on the local community with many commenting on the kindness and professionalism of all the teams involved.
Bourne Wood became famous twenty years ago after featuring in the opening scene for the blockbuster Gladiator featuring Russell Crowe. It has since been chosen for many feature films, in part due to it’s unique landscape and cinematic feel.
We’re looking forward to the next film already booked in at Bourne Wood and are now able to offer other woodlands to film crews as our location portfolio has grown.”
Hankley Common, Surrey
Hankley Common is a 1,400-acre nature reserve in Farnham, Surrey. Owned by the Ministry of Defence and managed by Landmarc Support Services, the grounds have seen footfall of many large productions over recent years, including Enola Holmes 2, 1917 and Skyfall. Napoleon filmed there for six weeks in March 2022 and we spoke to Kaye McLone, Account Manager at Landmarc, about the shoot:
“Preparation work started at 7 different locations within Hankley in March 2022 which was the start of the transformation work required to create a freezing Russian Tundra for Napoleon’s Army to cross in retreat, whilst pursuing Cossacks.
Whilst the site was extremely busy with Military Training as well as over 400 cast and crew plus over 40 horses and their riders, the location team worked tirelessly with Defence Infrastructure Organisation and Landmarc to ensure no interference to Military training occurred and that strict guidelines were followed whilst on the area respecting the restrictions within an area of SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest).
We have had many productions on DIO Training Estates, however to see 150 French Soldiers march alongside horses through the main track with Napoleon passing them on his Sled during a scattered snow storm, was extremely impressive and one that won’t be forgotten. It was a great privilege to have this production at Hankley for 6 weeks, I for one look forward to the production being released in November 2023.”
With two Surrey locations featured in the film, the team at Surrey Film Office were delighted to welcome the production to their county. Film Officer Vicki Brown comments:
“We’ve seen a variety of productions take place across our Surrey woodlands and it’s always a pleasure to see the locations on screen. On this occasion, both Bourne Wood and Hankley Common were transformed into a snowy battlefield, setting the scene for Napoleon. However, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Ridley Scott in Surrey; With Bourne Wood being chosen for the opening battle scene of Gladiator (2000), which set the path for all future filming at the Forestry England site.”
Napoleon is released exclusively in theatres worldwide on November 22 2023, before streaming on Apple TV+.
Across the English Regions, the Filming in England team are on hand to facilitate high-end TV and feature film productions, working with local and regional partners. For more information on the support we offer, explore our website or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.