Written by Harriet Sams – Writer and Director of The First Musketeer
Trying to make a film on a low budget is tricky enough, but when your series is set around 400 years ago in France it becomes a monumental challenge. I always knew that I would film this series in France, after all, our iconic heroes are a part of their rich history, but I regularly get asked why I chose to ship nearly 50 people to a different country with next to no money.
The answer, for me, was simple. If you want to make a series set in 17th century France, go to places that were around in 17th century France. Although I’m from the UK, I was fortunate enough to grow up in the Lot region of Southern France, bordered by the Lot-et-Garonne and the Dordogne, areas that are somewhat equivalent to British counties, and named after the grand rivers that flow through them.
The beauty of these regions are famous worldwide, and I certainly never took for granted the fact that you are only ever a few miles away from the nearest castle, or “Chateau”. So began a year long location scout, trying to find places that were not only beautiful, but barely touched by modern life, and would have been around in 1619. These are some of the places I found:
Rocamadour – Lot
Rocamadour is a stunning town built into the side of a cliff, and one of the most famous tourist attractions in France. It has a massively rich history, and is also a major religious site for pilgrims across the globe. Not the most accessible location for a film shoot as the Sanctuary where we shot our scenes is only accessible by walking up their famously steep and copious steps, or by taking a large lift/elevator down. It was certainly worth it in the end though as this location turned out to be one of our most beautiful. The sanctuary where we shot is the first image pictured at the top of this post, and below is one of the many scenes we filmed there.
Chateau de Losse – Dordogne
The Chateau de Losse is a bit of a hidden gem. A Renaissance Manor set along a river, it plays the part of Richelieu’s private estate. Not only did we choose it because it has been exceptionally restored to it’s original decor, and the space it provides for a film crew to work, but also because the real Cardinal Richelieu once visited the Chateau, with some damaging consequences. It is beautiful both inside and out, famous for it’s historic gardens that are worth the visit alone.
Chateau de Bonaguil – Lot-et-Garonne
The Chateau de Bonaguil is an epic Castle that sits atop of a charming little town, one which I remember fondly as a child as the place I used to be treated to ice cream. Although the castle itself is an intimidating image, we actually used it as the streets of Paris. Having fallen into a state of ruin, although by no means indiscernible from how it might once have looked, the fact that the majority of the roofs are missing makes it look like a medieval town of stone from the inside. We used multiple areas of this castle, including the cavernous passages that run beneath it, and it became like a second home to the cast and crew, at least until the Make-up team heard some of the Ghost stories that surround the mysterious Chateau.
The Chateau de Fumel – Lot-et-Garonne
The Chateau de Fumel, rather than being a privately owned castle, is actually a municipal building for the local area. It does however have some stunning gardens and a dramatic sheltered walkway that doubles up as a Parisian street in our series. A great location that only suffered once during a set up for one of our scenes, when an unexpected wedding party crashed the site to have their photos taken before seeing off the happy couple on their honeymoon. What they thought of a group of people running around with cameras and swords I don’t know.
These are just some of the places we used in September, and if we get the opportunity to return for Season 2 we hope to use many more, and wouldn’t shoot elsewhere if given the choice. In the end, the expense of getting to France was more than worth it. The accommodating representatives of Film France welcomed us to their country, and we were able to film on locations that were not only historically accurate, but also way beyond anything we could have achieved by building streets as sets. And after all, I think it’s finally time that a film about The Three Musketeers is actually shot in the country that produced them.
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