Sometimes the best way to film a scene for a television show or film is to shoot on location. CGI has the tendency to look unnatural, so using a green screen to film entire backgrounds and structures is usually a bad idea. This practice is what brought a lot of ire down on George Lucas when he did entire scenes using CGI in his Star Wars prequels. An organic, physical location or structure will always look better to the eye; this is why so many filmmakers are relying less on computer-generated visual effects and going back to using man-made sets and practical effects whenever they were feasible for the situation.
A tactic that’s even more visually convincing than CGI or a three-walled set is to actually find real-world examples of the structures your script calls for. If you’re script calls for a wooded area, find some woods to shoot in. If your script calls for an old general store located in a small town, by all means, find an old general store located in a small town. Rarely will there ever be a substitute that is going to look better and feel more authentic than the real deal.
With the popularity of period pieces, rags to riches tails, and the rising popularity of epic fantasy films, castles are often called for as a setting in many films. With their grand scales and huge grounds, the most efficient way to film scenes in or around castles is to actually go out, look at some castles, and get permission to film on location at the one that best meets the filmmaker’s vision. The following ten castles have been used in several films. You may even recognize a few of them from some of your favorite films.
10. Alnwick Castle
No castle in the world has been used in film and television more than the Alnwick Castle located in Northumberland, England. It’s been used as a filming location since the 1960’s and it’s been featured in movies such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. It’s been in a veritable plethora of popular British television shows, going back to Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder and going all the way up to Down Town Abbey. However, Alnwick’s biggest claim to fame is its use as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in three of the Harry Potter films. Notable scenes include Harry’s first Quidditch lesson and the Womping Willow attack on the Weasley’s Ford Anglia.
Alnwick is open to the public for tours and events.
9. Arundel Castle
The Arundel Castle, located in West Sussex, England, has been around since Christmas Day of 1067, making it nearly a thousand years old. It’s a restored castle and it serves as the current home of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
Arundel doesn’t have the same kind of film prestige as Alnwick Castle. You have to admit, Harry Potter’s popularity is definitely hard to top. However, Arundel Castle has been used as a location in another very popular fandom – it was used in episodes of the classic Doctor Who series. It’s also been used in the Academy Award winning film The Madness of King George among other films and series.
8. Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh is another Northumberland, England Castle and in its history it was the target of many raids from Scotland and the castle has been used as a filming location since the 1920’s. Notable films include Ivanhoe (Elizabeth Taylor) and El Cid (Charlton Heston), both of which were nominated for three Oscars.
The castle is currently owned by the Armstrong family, but it is open to the public.
7. Belvoir Castle
Belvoir castle is located in Leicestershire County in England and is known for the extensive art collection it houses. The castle has served as the home for the Manners family for over five hundred years and also has served as the seat of the Duke of Rutland for over three hundred years.
A number of movies and television shows have been filmed here since the 1980’s. The biggest picture filmed here is The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks. Another claim to fame is the film Young Sherlock Holmes, which featured the first photo-realistic CGI character – a knight made out of stained glass.
6. Broughton Castle
The Broughton Castle is a medieval manor house located near Banbury in Oxfordshire, England. The castle is opened to the public and serves as the home of the Saye and Seele families.
The castle hasn’t been used much since the 1990’s but some of the more notable films included The Madness of King George starring Helen Mirren and Shakespeare in Love starring Gwyneth Paltrow. It also was used as a location for the highly forgettable Three Men and a Baby sequel titled Three Men and a Little Lady.
5. Dover Castle
Located in Kent, England, Dover Castle is a very popular tourist attraction owned by English Heritage. It was once known as “the Key to England” because of its defensive capabilities. Louis the VIII wasn’t even able to take the castle.
Dover Castle has been used in The Mind of Evil story-arc in the classic Doctor Who series and in a 1990’s adaptation of the classic The Wind in the Willows featuring a number of Monty Python alumni. Most notably it was featured as the Tower of London in the film The Other Boleyn Girl starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson.
4. Eilean Donan Castle
The Eilean Donan Castle is located on a small island of the same name in Loch Duich in the Western Highlands of Scotland. The castle has been used as a set for films and television going all the way back to the 1940’s.
One of the biggest films the castle was featured in was the Pierce Brosnan James Bond film The World Is Not Enough. You will also see the castle used in the first installment of the popular Highlander series. The last time it was used in a film was for the Patrick Dempsey romantic comedy Made of Honor.
To date, almost the entire castle is open to tourists.
3. Castle Howard
Castle Howard is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually considered a stately home despite its name. It has been used in film and television since the 1950’s.
Castle Howard only has one truly notable film under its belt, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Lyndon is very well liked by fans and critics, but it definitely isn’t one of Kubrick’s most lauded works. It’s also been featured as the titular Brideshead in a number of films based on the novel Brideshead Revisited.
Castle Howard’s other big claim to fame is its place in the film Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties.
2. Raglan Castle
Raglan Castle dates back to the 12th century. The castle is in ruin, with most of its ruination occurring during one of the longest sieges of the English Civil War. The ruins are definitely something to behold and they look like something straight out of a fantasy novel.
The castle has only been featured in a small number of projects, but they’re all pretty notable. The ruins were featured in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, the Led Zeppelin film The Song Remains the Same, and the popular Merlin BBC series.
1. Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is a very well preserved royal Palace located in Versailles, a suburb of Paris, France. It is known for being one of the most impressive achievements of 18th century French art and architecture.
This palace doesn’t boast as much use as some the castles on our list, but all three films the palace was featured in were highly acclaimed. Valmont starring Colin Firth and Annette Benning nabbed an Oscar nomination and won a number of other awards; Quills starring Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for 3 Oscars and won 20 other awards with another 38 nominations; Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst won an Oscar and 12 additional awards.