Friday, 28th April. 1 AM at ‘J’ Stage, Shepperton Studios. Another night shoot but now back in studio in King Philip’s private quarters in the Escorial – or more properly the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. The palace was commissioned by Philip as a mausoleum for his family and a center for the study of the Counter Reformation – the Catholic attempt to turn back the wave of Lutheran and Protestant reform sweeping across Europe. It was (and is) a huge structure – a monastery, museum, art gallery, library and, of course one of Philip’s homes.
Saturday 29th April, 2006
So what does out set look like – huge? gilded? No – for all the size and ambition of the Escorial it is a paradox. The palace was designed to look and feel monastic and its ground plan represented the grid-iron on which St Lawrence was martyred – not the usual layout of a family house! Inside, Philip’s rooms which you can still visit today, are sparse, pared down to the bare minimum. Our set reflects this dichotomy by making Philip’s quarters a single stone room – almost a cell – lit by one small window and a solitary candle. This room is designed to explain the contradiction at the heart of Philip – a man with access to all the wealth of the New World, but an ascetic, deeply religious man who retained so singular a belief in the Catholic faith of his ancestors that it blinded him to the changing world around him and brought what should have been the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world to the edge of bankruptcy. In this small, simply furnished room Shekhar has managed to bring out the essence of the difference between Elizabeth and Philip. He is a dark, enclosed character, a mediaeval figure whilst she is light, a vision of a new age. Talking to Shekhar as the shot’s set up he says ‘Philip is fire – Elizabeth is water – they are red and blue’. The sets, the lighting, the performances all reflect this.
All tonight’s shots revolve around this one, lonely man’s interaction with a single candle. This is Philip’s only light – a mediaeval light – which flickers as some lost wisp of wind from the hurricane that is at that moment destroying the Armada blows through his window. He prays, kneeling on the floor of the cell he has built for himself, his own prison, but the prayer remains unanswered. The candle gutters and dies.