Turning Blackness Castle into Palace of Holyroodhouse for Mary Queen of Scots

An eye for detail is surely crucial when you are making an epic historical drama.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 18th January 2019, 5:36 pm
Updated Friday, 18th January 2019, 5:38 pm
Surveying her land...Mary Queen of Scots was filmed on location across Scotland. Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and the rest of the cast and crew spent  two weeks at Blackness Castle. (Pic: Courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Surveying her land...Mary Queen of Scots was filmed on location across Scotland. Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and the rest of the cast and crew spent two weeks at Blackness Castle. (Pic: Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Mary Queen of Scots production crew certainly left no stone unturned as they transformed Blackness Castle for the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

Released in cinemas across the UK today (Friday), it was filmed on location at Blackness for two weeks in September 2017.

Sadly, only the crew were on hand to watch the Red Arrows fly over as the Queen opened the Queensferry Crossing on September 4.

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Leaded windows...more typical of era in which Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) reigned. (Picture: Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

But it was a well-earned break for the team who spent many hours ensuring the ‘set’ was historically accurate.

It was a fascinating process to watch for the castle’s monument manager Graeme Sinclair.

“They filmed here from September 5 to 18, but the crew were here for several days before that to get everything ready,” he said.

“Metal grates were laid to protect the grounds, allowing cranes to bring in massive props.

Eye for detaill...crew left no stone unturned, replacing Blackness Castle's electric chandeliers with candelabra more befitting of the era. (Pic: Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“The great hall looked spectacular, decked out in tapestries with a massive table and tankards.

“They even removed our window and replaced it with leaded ones, to represent the time period.

“The crew also took out our electric chandeliers, replacing them with very similiar candelabra, using candles rather than electric.

“Door key fobs were also changed to ensure the period detailing was correct.

It is hoped Universal's epic historical drama, Mary Queen of Scots, will bring even more tourists to Blackness Castle. The cast and crew spent two weeks at the castle in September 2017. (Pic: Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“A vaulted room on the first floor, currently home to the Lego exhibition, was used as a bedroom, with a huge four poster bed, skins on the floor and cabinets.

“The props were the real McCoy too; wood reproductions of 16th century furniture.

“There’s no door on the south tower in the courtyard but they created one for the film. It was incredible to see the tower’s entrance restored.

“Their attention to detail was phenomenal and it was fascinating to watch from the sidelines.

“It really was quite an undertaking; the crew also restored the castle to its former glory after filming.”

Visitors were kept at bay as the cameras rolled but those who had flown in from across the globe to see the famous Outlander location were given some leeway.

Graeme explained: “As ever, we had fans coming from across the globe to see Black Jack Randall’s HQ.

“The castle was closed during filming but we allowed visitors up to the gates to see the castle.

“When people have travelled from abroad, you don’t want to disappoint them but the film crew had a tight schedule too.

“It can be a difficult act to balance but I think we managed all expectations.”

Graeme now can’t wait to see the castle’s starring role.

Staff from the castle and Linlithgow Palace, Mary’s birthplace, will be heading to the cinema together!

He added: “We’ve already got a date in the diary.

“But we’ll watch it with different eyes, looking out for the castle scenes. It always surprises you how different it can look on the big screen.”

Mary Queen of Scots is a retelling of the life of Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), based on the book, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by Dr John Guy.

It also stars Golden Globe and BAFTA nominee Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I, Queen of England and David Tennant as John Knox.

The film explores Mary’s difficulty in asserting her authority in Scotland, with threats from protestants and the English Queen.

Josie Rourke, the director, wanted to shoot as much of the film here as possible.

She said: “Scotland is an extraordinary country and it matches the scale of the story and the scale of what happens to Mary at certain points in the film.

“We just wanted to show Scotland in all of its incredible glory.”

To coincide with the film’s release, VisitScotland has created an interactive online map featuring historical and on-screen locations.

On the trail of Mary Queen of Scots highlights 19 sites linked to Mary, including Blackness Castle, whose courtyard doubles as the entrance to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Linlithgow Palace and Dundrennan Abbey in Kirkcudbright where she spent her final night in Scotland.

One in five visitors are inspired to come here after seeing Scotland on the big or small screen.

Jenni Steele, film and creative industries manager at VisitScotland, said: “With its mix of political intrigue and stunning imagery of Scotland, the film could offer further inspiration for visitors to explore the real historical locations linked to the 16th century monarch.

“Our online map is the perfect place to start.”

The map goes live today at www.visitscotland.com/maryqueenofscots.