South West England

Royal Connections

by Andy Fry

In 2013, US premium-pay TV channel Starz teamed up with the BBC to make The White Queen, a War of the Roses period drama based on Philippa Gregory’s novels. The success of that show persuaded Starz to invest in an eight-part sequel, The White Princess. The story picks up after the Battle of Bosworth Field and centres on the marriage of Henry VII to Elizabeth of York.

The first series was shot in Belgium to take advantage of tax incentives. “By the time we got into planning for a second series, the UK [highend TV] tax credit had come into effect,” says Karen Bailey, SVP, original programming at Starz. “The tax credit, combined with the authentic historical locations and the availability of crew, meant it made sense to produce here.”

To mark the launch of the UK’s high-end television tax relief in April 2013, the British Film Commission hosted its inaugural US to UK highend television familiarisation trip. Starz was one of nine US companies represented on the trip, which aimed to highlight the UK’s world-class TV drama infrastructure — now made all the more attractive and accessible to international producers as a result of the incentive.

The show’s headquarters were based in Bristol. “We’re familiar with the UK because we’ve shot in Wales [Da Vinci’s Demons] and Scotland [Outlander], but Bristol was the right choice for a couple of reasons,” says Bailey. “[One was that] The Bottle Yard Studios offered the facilities we needed.”

Bailey notes the city seemed most central for the physical locations the production team were eyeing. “Many key locations were within 60 miles,” says Bailey, “but a lot of what we were looking for was very close to the city itself.”

Westminster Palace interiors, including corridors, bedrooms and state rooms, were recreated at the studio. “Original rooms often aren’t right for the needs of a modern TV production,” says Bailey, “so you need to go into the studio. But we were keen to get a sense of England’s green and open spaces, as well as its gardens and building exteriors. Shooting on physical locations was key.”

Regional tour

Pre-production started in January 2015 with the shoot taking place from late May until October that year. The production visited several of the region’s beauty spots: Gloucester, Salisbury, Wells and Bristol cathedrals all feature in the series, as do Berkeley, Sudeley and Arundel castles. There were also roles for Frampton Manor in Gloucestershire and Great Chalfield Manor in Wiltshire. “We used a lot of locations to make sure we got exactly the look we were after,” says Bailey.

While the heart of Westminster Palace was recreated at The Bottle Yard, the throne room and great hall were shot on location in the picturesque town of Bradford-on-Avon. Westminster Gardens, meanwhile, was reimagined at Sudeley Castle, while other regional locations were used to replicate the Tower of London, York Cathedral and the court of Burgundy.

“We dealt with private owners and bodies like English Heritage,” says Bailey. “Sometimes, understandably, we were restricted in terms of the hours you can stay or the parts of the building you can shoot in, but overall it was very smooth.”

While key talent was fl own in for The White Queen, Bailey notes that “with The White Princess we hired everyone out of the UK, including heads of department. Almost everything was sourced from Bristol, with the exception of some costume support. We could draw on the crew from Galavant and also Poldark, which was on hiatus”.

The showrunner on The White Princess is Cornwall-based Emma Frost and the lead actress is Liverpool’s Jodie Comer. With the music composed by Scotland’s John Lunn and post-production also handled in the UK, the show is an authentic homegrown production. “That will go down well with US fans,” notes Bailey, “because we know they love UK royal dramas.”

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