Shooting stars: Behind the scenes of Robin Hood the Movie in Windsor Great Park

PUBLISHED: 15:19 20 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:00 20 February 2013

Joan Weymouth, Fiona Blythe and  Maureen Sutcliffe with manager Julia Deane (front)

Joan Weymouth, Fiona Blythe and Maureen Sutcliffe with manager Julia Deane (front)

Last July, Windsor Great Park was transformed into medieval Nottinghamshire for <br/><br/>the making of Robin Hood: the Movie, starring Russell Crowe. Jan Sell<br/><br/>went behind the scenes of a much-hyped Hollywood epic

If you ventured into Windsor Great Park via Black Nest gate in Sunningdale last July, you would, in all probability, have stepped onto a film set. Hollywoods 21st century take on the ever-popular adventures of Robin Hood, this time starring the Oscar-winning duo of Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, was being shot in the Park and in various other locations across the border in Surrey and in Wales. For almost a month visitors to Virginia Water Lake were treated to the sight of a 50 foot high portcullis, a galleon and several straw huts on its usually serene banks. Densely wooded areas of the Park, near Bear Rails Park, towards Old Windsor, also doubled as Sherwood Forest.
Brother and sister Charlie and Sophie Harris from Sunningdale were among those lucky enough to see the cameras roll. We were just walking around the lake when first we saw a huge galleon on the far bank, then a castle with torches lit on either side. There were people all around, many dressed as monks, some of them in rowing boats, says Charlie, aged 18.
On our side of the lake there were straw huts with lots of people dressed as peasants walking around, says Sophie, aged 12. There were about 25 other walkers and we were all stopped and told to wait while they filmed the scene. So we waited for about 15 minutes and listened to Russell Crowe making a speech on the other side of the lake, although we couldnt see him. Then we heard the director say Cut! and everyone clapped.
The only blip in the proceedings was when someones Labrador broke free and ran across the set.
In the films finale the whole castle was torched and extra Theresa Bon de Sousa Pernes, who played a peasant, witnessed the dramatic event. She recalls: It was an amazing sight. We were all flabbergasted. The fire raged and the heat was so intense. I cant wait to see it on screen.

Crowe spotting in Sunningdale

The Robin Hood adventure, due out in cinemas this month, has been the subject of intense media speculation since filming began last June. Its eponymous star, Russell Crowe, together with his family, rented a house in nearby Windlesham for a few weeks. During July the Gladiator stars name was on many locals lips as the 46 year-old Australian made the most of his surroundings when breaks in his schedule allowed.
He enjoyed a days racing and a concert at Ascot Racecourse, was a frequent visitor to Caffe Fego in Sunningdale and drank in several local pubs, although tabloid reports of his rowdy behaviour were totally unfounded. The star even turned up unannounced one day at Magnolia House doctors surgery, seeking an appointment for his son. But one of the biggest stories at the time was his visit to Cancer Research UKs Sunningdale shop, where he stunned staff by giving them a donation of 1,000. Apparently he had seen an advertisement urging people to give generously on the television the night before and as he passed the shop the same campaign poster caught his eye. He simply walked in and handed over the cash to the astonished volunteers.
Fiona Blythe was one of the lucky ones who met the star. She recalls: We couldnt believe it. We knew he was in the area filming, and had been hoping to catch a glimpse of him. We were all a bit star-struck, but it was lovely to meet him and he stopped and had a bit of a chat with us.

A great visitor experience

Meanwhile, back in the Great Park, it was Crown Estate operations manager Nick Days job to see that all was running smoothly for director Ridley Scott and his crew. The films location manager had been in talks for the past 18 months. Initially the leaves had been the wrong colour. In July, however, everything was perfect, apart from the vagaries of the English summer.
Says Nick: It was the biggest film crew and one of the most professional weve had. The potential for things to go wrong was enormous, but it was actually a real pleasure and we managed to come out of it unscathed.
The Great Park is known as a film friendly location. An American Werewolf in London and Harry Potter were both shot here. Says Nick: We do consider each request very carefully and we have to ensure that its not detrimental to the flora and fauna of the area. We are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and we have a obligation to always consult with Natural England. Their representatives always come and visit while theres filming. We also have an obligation to visitors in the Park, making sure that the film crews do not inconvenience them in any way. But on this occasion the visitors experience was actually enhanced I think.
All the money earned from the filming goes towards maintaining the Park. Nick points out: Windsor isnt a huge money earner and its no secret that the estate does not turn a profit. Our primary objective is to preserve and maintain the Great Park. We have almost three million visitors a year and its all free except for the Savill Garden. The filming income assists with the maintenance of the place and with certain specific projects.
There are occasions, however, when Nick simply has to say no to the studios. For Clash of the Titans (out in April) they wanted to land flying horses and in Wolfman they wanted to release real bears into the Park!
Nick confesses he was very relieved when the five weeks of filming Robin Hood had passed without incident. It was jolly hard work and the best bit was when the last lorry drove out of the gate and the whole place was back to normal, he says. So will he be going to watch the film? Absolutely. Ive got three children aged 12, 11 and nine, so I have to go, but Im looking forward to seeing the Great Park and how theyve used computer generation to alter and enhance scenes. He also intends to pay particular attention at the end, adding. Ill probably be the only one left in the cinema but Ill be watching the credits roll, to see if the locations get a mention.

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