Robin Hood filming with Russell Crowe in Farnham
Set to be one of the biggest films of the year, much of the new Robin Hood epic, starring Russell Crowe, was shot at Bourne Wood near Farnham. KATY DOWNHAM finds out more about Surrey’s star turn on the big screen
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2010
Photo: Universal Pictures
Ramblers strolling through Bourne Wood, near Farnham, last year may well have found themselves tripping over their Nordic walking sticks in amazement. For all of a sudden, through the ancient woodland could be spied what appeared to be a medieval castle and a mud hut village. And no, surely not, but was that Russell Crowe striding through the trees? Contrary to appearances, however, they hadn’t been at the magic mushrooms…
Last spring, the peace and quiet of rural Farnham was shattered when the movie trailers rolled into town for the filming of Ridley Scott’s latest epic, Robin Hood. Starring Russell Crowe in the title role and Cate Blanchett at his side as Lady Marian, much of it was shot in local woodland, which doubled as Sherwood Forest, as well as at the Hampton Estate around Elstead and at nearby Virginia Water, causing something of a stir locally.
One person who knows that better than most is local visitor to Bourne Wood, Felix Russell-Saw from Frensham, who popped up there to see the set with a group of friends.
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“We went there in the summer and although we didn’t see anyone from the film, there were loads of trailers parked everywhere,” he says. “Security was really strict on where you could go and look. We were told to stick to the main path and forbidden to go down to the set, which was made up of loads of straw and mud huts that apparently got blown up a few weeks after we’d been there. On top of a hill was a giant castle that was being finished off by a team of people.”
With the film due for release this month, the creation of the village in Bourne Wood began early in 2008, giving the huts and castle a year to weather and become part of the landscape, and shooting finally got underway in February 2009.
One of the crew’s first jobs was to speak to Pam Eastwood, film liaison and development officer at the Forestry Commission, which owns and manages the land at Bourne Wood and is in charge of the protection of a number of woods around Britain. Pam has worked for the Forestry Commission for over 11 years and has recently taken over the job of organising all the film locations on their land.
“It’s not the glamorous job that everyone thinks it is, though,” she laughs. “When I’m finished talking to you, I’m going to let a lorry in so that he can empty a cesspool. Not very showbiz, I must say!
“The first aim of the Forestry Commission is to protect the woodlands and produce timber; the filming is just a small part of what we do really. We use the revenue that it generates to fund other conservation projects in the parks.”
During the shooting for Robin Hood, she had to make weekly site visits to the set, to check everything was as it should be. So did she get to meet any of the cast herself?
“Oh no,” she smiles. “You do see them walking around the set but they’re at work – it’s not a meet and greet event. But it was great being able to see how the set changed and developed during that time.”
Blockbuster Bourne It could be said that Robin Hood was Farnham’s worst kept secret. With scenes from Gladiator and Harry Potter having been shot at Bourne Wood in the past, it was already a well-known filming location – and, needless to say, word soon spread about Robin Hood.
Security was on site 24 hours a day but a few cunning people braved the burly security guards and managed to get up close. Soon, photos and videos started emerging on the internet, which only served to increase the curiosity of the already salivating Robin Hood fans. Blogs dedicated to the film sprang up everywhere and the rumour mill was rife with who would take the principal role.
When it was finally revealed that Crowe would be taking the lead, speculation of what the finished product would be like exploded around the world. Naturally, by this point, locals were dying for a look around the set, though Patrick Hanlan, from Farnham, is probably one of the few who truly saw it up close.
He had unknowingly chosen to visit on the day that the press were allowed on site to take photographs. While on set, he was asked which publication he worked for. When he told them he was just looking around with his girlfriend, he ended up getting a guided tour from one of the production crew.
“We went up late last April and were lucky enough to see the entire set,” he says. “There was a huge castle, which looked so real from the front, but once you walked around the back, it was just scaffolding. There were also huge wooden fences and stakes around the village and hammocks hung in a lot of the trees.”
While they were there, so were some of the cast. Although they didn’t see Russell Crowe (who had left the previous week), they were lucky enough to spot Alan Doyle, who Patrick describes as a “huge bear of a man”. Doyle will play the merry men’s minstrel Allan A’Dale in the film.
“We went back in December, to see if anything was still going on, and although the castle was still there, you could tell that some serious digging and terrain levelling had gone on since the crew had all left,” says Patrick. “I’ve heard that the castle has also been used for the next Harry Potter movie, too.”
A charitable outlaw During the filming, which went on until September, Russell Crowe managed to cause quite a stir in the area. On a break from shooting at Virginia Water, he famously walked into a Cancer Research charity shop in nearby Sunningdale and handed over a cheque for �1,000.
“Having Russell Crowe walk into one of our shops was a fantastic surprise!” says Lynn Daly, spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK. “We really appreciate his spontaneous kindness and generosity, as we do with anyone. No doubt like the rest of us, he has known someone affected by cancer and was moved to make a generous donation.
“The volunteer who was manning the till that day didn’t recognise him – the staff only discovered who he was after he wrote his name in a donations book. I think they were thrilled to have had a Hollywood A-lister in their shop – and discover he had a very generous heart, too.”
For part of his stay here, the Australian star rented a mansion with his family in nearby Windlesham, with his son attending Hall Grove Prep School in Bagshot. He was also a regular face in the local pubs, although one story that made national headlines – his apparent barring from The Brickmaker’s in Windlesham – was untrue. Despite his fearsome reputation, Crowe proved to be a friendly, merry man, indeed. On another occasion, he even enjoyed a spa treatment or two, while staying at a luxury hotel.
“Mr Crowe was with us over several weeks last year and we were thrilled to be able to look after him and his family when they came to visit him,” says the general manager of Pennyhill Park Hotel in Bagshot, Julian Tomlin.
“He used the facilities in The Spa and a therapist was made available on occasions when he requested a treatment.”
A necessary relaxation perhaps when the rest of your time is being spent running through woods robbing the rich to feed the poor...
Normally a haven for dog walkers and horse riders, peace has returned to Bourne Wood, at least for the time being. With all physical traces of its medieval castle and associated Nordic walking obstacles gone, you’ll just have to relive Surrey’s Robin Hood connection when the movie hits cinemas this month.
Making a splash in Surrey
Although Farnham was one of the main filming locations for Robin Hood, it wasn’t the only place to be chosen in Surrey for this latest blockbuster.
Some of it was shot at the Hampton Estate around Elstead, and Virginia Water was used for some of the lake scenes that will feature in the film.
“They built a large boat and a jetty on site – and the boat was so large that it could carry horses,” says the operations manager at Virginia Water, Nickolas Day, who was lucky enough to observe the filming at close quarters. “They filmed in both April and July, and there was about a week’s worth of filming in all, though it’s probably going to be less than four minutes of total screen time!
“It’s great for us, though, as all the revenue that is generated goes straight back into maintaining the park.”