What an apt title! Lights, Camera, Action! Blenheim’s special exhibition starts on February 9 when the palace reopens as the star of TV and film. The palace has become part of cinematic history as a jewel location for many films and TV dramas. One of the aims of this exhibition is to point visitors to the scene locations. Some are easy to recognise and others more surprising. For some scenes in The Young Victoria (2008), Blenheim doubled for Buckingham Palace while, in the same film, it became the Laeken Palace where King Leopold holds conversations with Prince Albert about the young Victoria played by Emily Blunt. Rupert Friend, who played Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, is now famous across the Atlantic for his role in series two of Homeland. Comments by him and some of the costumes from The Young Victoria are on display in the Long Library.

The most fantastic portrayals of the palace have to be in Gulliver’s Travels — seeing Jack Black as Gulliver loom over the monumental building was unforgettable. The visitor centre will display props including the giant chair, crockery and cutlery.

Blenheim will always be associated with Winston Churchill not only as his birthplace but, according to historian Margaret Forster, Churchill’s grandmother Frances gave him stability and confidence during his holidays in Blenheim. Robert Hardy played Churchill in the TV series The Wilderness Years.

One of the earliest films featured is Half a Sixpence with Tommy Steele (1967). There is an unusual and moving image in the exhibition of Tommy Steele showing Robert Kennedy the room where Churchill was born, a year before the senator was assassinated in 1968.

The Marlboroughs have on occasion married wealthy Americans and that was the case with Randolph Churchill. His beautiful wife Jennie was born in Brooklyn. Costumes from Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) will be on display, including one worn by Lee Remick playing Churchill’s mother.

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), a wonderful Cedar of Lebanon in the Capability Brown-designed grounds was used as the scene of Snape’s Worst Memory. Costumes like those worn by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) plus props — skulls, wands and spell books — are in the visitor centre and that is where you can find directions to the tree.

It’s fun recognising the locations for Morse and Lewis, especially when the interior of one Oxford college has the exit of another. Colin Dexter told me it’s all about ‘parking’. There’s no such problem at Blenheim where its Stable Courtyard can park no end of white vans. In Lewis, The Point of Vanishing (2007), Jenny Seagrove murdered her victim in the maze. In Inspector Morse — The Way Through the Woods (1987) the crime scene with police tape, gazebo, chalked outline of victim’s body, disposable forensic suits etc. was in the Pleasure Gardens!

The palace took on the role of the Royal Mint in Sherlock Holmes — Without a Clue (1988) and the Duke played a cameo role in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996). One photo shows them creating a fake snow scene. Blenheim has also been discovered by Bollywood and featured in Khabi Khushi, Khabie Gham (2001).

There will be free guided tours of the exhibition twice a day but places will be on a first-come-first-served basis. In the half-term week in February, some of the family-friendly films that have been shot at Blenheim Palace will be screened in the Courtyard Restaurant. The films will start at 2pm each day and seats are limited. Education officer Antonia Keaney said: “Since the early 1950s, the palace has becoming increasingly popular as a film location. When a huge film crew descends upon us, it affects the staff and the visitors too, but despite the inconvenience they love it. “In the course of working on this exhibition, I have met interesting and generous people and sourced costumes and props from all manner of peculiar places! It’s been a joy to work on this exhibition.”

Blenheim Palace is repeating its successful annual pass scheme. Go once and you can have free entry for the rest of the year. A family challenge could be to find the film locations both inside and in the grounds of the palace.


Lights, Camera, Action – Blenheim Palace the Star of TV and Film
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock
February 9 – April 1
Call 01993 815600 or visit blenheimpalace.com