Two days after seeing the Chapter House stairs in Wells Cathedral and mistakenly recognising them from “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, I ventured to another county and a setting that I was certain had appeared in the film. Perhaps I should make clear at this point that I’m not an obsessive following in the footsteps of Costner and Freeman, simply that so many classic English landmarks were crammed into that film. Robin clearly clocked up a few miles criss-crossing the country for romantic interludes, dramatic battles and icy showers.
There is a scene in the film where that most subtle of actors, Brian Blessed, in the role of Robin’s father rides out from his castle at night to die at the hands of the Sheriff’s men. That castle was my next stop. Or so I thought.
Bodiam Castle is a cinematographer’s dream; largely intact defensive walls form a neat square rising directly from the waters of broad moat. Shot in the cooler months with the addition of mist rising from the waters (or with plenty of smoke from the effects team) it makes for an atmospheric location.
Built in East Sussex towards the end of the 14th Century it’s purpose was to defend against a possible invasion from France during the Hundred Years War. It is perhaps fortunate that the invasion never came, for the castle’s record as a stout defence is not a good one despite those impressive walls, and internal defences including “murder holes” in the two gatehouse ceilings. During the Wars of the Roses Richard III sent a Yorkist force to besiege the castle and it seems as if the siege was short-lived or even non-existent for the castle was quickly surrendered by the Lewknor family who were then resident. Shortly afterwards they were reinstalled when the pendulum swung back to the House of Lancaster under Henry VII.
Two centuries later the castle was under attack once more, though in a different way. Now occupied by the Royalist Lord Thanet, he was forced to sell Bodiam to pay fines imposed by Parliament in the wake of The Civil War. The castle’s interior was dismantled as a result and the walls were left to the mercies of time until some restoration was carried out in the Victorian era which continued when the National Trust took ownership in 1925, making it that ideal film location… but not for Robin Hood. My memory failed me again it seems, though not entirely.
Back in 1975 the castle feature in a single shot as the home of the Swamp King in an entirely different medieval tale: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Kevin Costner & Morgan Freeman vs Graham Chapman and John Cleese? Sort of mistake anyone could make!