As usual when she starts a film, Elizabeth location manager Sue Quinn hunkered down for an intensive preproduction process with director Shekhar Kapur and production designer John Myhre. "It's what I call the honeymoon period," she says. "You put in all the best possible ingredients you can, before you're told you've got no money to do that. You talk through the script, you talk about the characters, and what you feel they should have around them. And you go to the ends of the earth to find all the best locations."
In the case of Elizabeth, a 16th-century historical drama about the early reign of the renowned Virgin Queen (played by Cate Blanchett), the ends of the earth extended to the borders of England, an area Quinn was far better acquainted with than either the designer, who is American, or the director, a native of India. "Their concept of English history is quite different than somebody's here," says the location manager. "I know more architecturally, but that doesn't mean anything, because what you try to create is an atmosphere for the characters. You don't always have to stick to what I call true period, for example; the background can be indeterminate as long as it gives the required feeling."
To illustrate, she continues, "We have plenty of references to the exterior of Whitehall Palace, but very little to the interior, so one can only go on writings of the period. Basically it would have been a rabbit warren of small rooms, to keep warm. But Shekhar wanted Elizabeth to feel isolated in her surroundings, and for that you need scale. He also wanted stone, which makes a very cold background."
The production ended up shooting many of the Whitehall scenes in Northumberland, at Durham Cathedral, which dates in some form to the 11th century. "It's one of the greatest cathedrals in England," says Quinn. "It gives you the scale, which is very difficult to build, because you just don't have the height. And once Shekhar decided he loved Durham Cathedral, that led us to do most of the locations in a radius of about 30 miles in the north of England."
Of course, it wasn't as simple as just choosing a location and shooting; Quinn needed to practice her negotiation skills. "You have to understand that it's not quite as film-friendly here as in America," she says. "The English are so precious about their heritage. It took quite a lot of negotiating to get into the cathedral, and then we had to clear out all the benches, match up various bits of flooring, put in lots of statues, and cover quite a few bits and pieces up. And then we had to put it all back. We had to work around the fact that it is a place of God: you can't just say, 'Sunday mass is canceled due to filming.'"
Even more difficult was the securing of a space for Elizabeth's Westminster Abbey coronation. "The abbey was restored by the Victorians, who tended to take away various period features and put their own identity on things," says Quinn. "Also, a lot of the stained glass is Victorian, because it hasn't lasted over the years." The perfect solution turned out to be 1,300-year-old York Minster, the largest medieval cathedral in northern Europe, and the one with the widest nave, "which meant that cinematically you've got a better angle on it," says the location manager.
But York Minster's interior had never been filmed in other than documentary fashion, and Quinn had some persuading to do. "There have been many requests, but I put forward that this would be a very spectacular thing, and that there was nowhere else we could do this because of the size of the nave and the fact that it was true period and looked stunning," she says. "I also explained that we would be using many extras, and that it would be good for the city of York. We did have some help from the mayor, as well."
Other northern England locations for Elizabeth included Alnwick Castle, home to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, and Bamburgh, Warkworth, Chillingham, Raby, Aydon, and Bolton Castles, which stood in for various 16th-century sites, including the Tower of London. Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire, was one of the few locations not in the north; this authentic wooden Tudor structure represented the Princess Elizabeth's warm childhood home, Hatfield House.
After two months on location, Elizabeth moved into Shepperton Studios for another month of shooting, and Quinn's assignment essentially ended. But she points out that the job of location manager in the UK is somewhat more complex than it is in the US: "I go out and find locations, and then I'm also site manager when the filming starts--I stay with the unit, and make sure everything is there that they need. You have unit managers, but the job of location manager here is location and unit manager in one."
Quinn got into the film industry as a costumer, but found her true calling while helping a friend find locations. She went on to location-manage a number of English film and TV productions, including Waterland, Heart of Darkness, Restoration, Hollow Reed, The Leading Man, Bent, Emma, and the upcoming movies Metroland and Notting Hill. "You get the best of both worlds, because you've got the creative input, and then you've got the logistical input," she says. "You find a location which is just so wonderful, but hey: How do you get everybody there? How do you set everything up? You have to almost be a Boy Scout to get it all sorted out."