Outlaw King: secrets of the film shoot revealed

Netflix original film Outlaw King follows Robert the Bruce as he battles to regain control after being made an outlaw by the King of England for taking the Scottish Crown.

Linlithogow Palace was one of the locations used to film Outlaw King. PIC: John Devlin/TSPL.
Linlithogow Palace was one of the locations used to film Outlaw King. PIC: John Devlin/TSPL.

The film was shot in stunning locations across the country, from Seacliff Beach in East Lothian to Talisker Bay on the Isle of Skye, with six sites used for filming in the care of Historic Environment Scotland.

Gillian Urquhart, events manager at HES who handled the filming for Outlaw King, said director David Mackenzie wanted to use as many real locations and buildings as possible.

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Glasgow Cathedral was transformed with medieval altars and huge candelabra for the film shoot. PIC: John Devlin/TSPL
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She added: “We knew they wanted to achieve a lot in a short time, and they really did! It all moved very quickly and the teams here at Historic Environment Scotland were extremely accommodating in assisting with this production. Having seen the film recently, I think our sites look amazing.”

Here, HES looks at the real locations behind the movie scene and offers some behind the scenes insight from staff who were on set as the cameras started to roll.

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Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh

Craigmillar Castle takes centre stage as it comes to life as Bruce’s castle and village. Over two separate filming shoots, the crew built a medieval village to the north of the castle, and had a gate built in the outer courtyard.

“The castle looked spectacular with crenellations, a two-storey stable block and various lean-tos added. It was amazing to see the battle scenes being filmed around the yew trees in the inner courtyard,” said monument manager Alastair Hunt.

Around 30 horses and archers assembled in the park to the south of the castle, before filming took place in the outer courtyard.

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Blackness Castle, West Lothian

Distinctive Blackness Castle with its rocky courtyard and ship-shaped exterior is easily spotted in Outlaw King, as it plays Yorkshire Castle where Bruce’s wife Elizabeth is imprisoned.

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Before and after the filming that took place at Blackness Castle in November 2017, the staff kept the site open as much as possible, meaning that many lucky visitors got a genuine behind the scenes experience to see the set.

“A great deal of clever work was done to clad metal railings in timber. Timber features including a balcony outside the water gate and a platform rising above the North tower were added, and a wooden staircase leading up to the pit prison entrance was removed and the doorway plugged,” said Monument Manager Graeme Sinclair,

“There was such skill and workmanship involved that you really felt you were getting a privileged glimpse into the distant past,” he added.

Doune Castle, near Stirling

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No stranger to the screen, Doune Castle is picked once again as a location for Outlaw King, and becomes Douglas castle and church in the film. Look out for a brilliant shot of the castle up in flames!

Douglas Wilson, Admissions & Hub Manager at Doune Castle, said: “The quality of the set design was absolutely amazing.

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“They created false walls that looked so real it was only when you touched them you realised they were wood and paint effects.”

Dunfermline Abbey, Fife

A fitting location to be picked for Outlaw King, Dunfermline Abbey is the burial place of medieval monarchs, and the tomb of Robert the Bruce himself is in the adjacent Abbey Church. In the film however, the Abbey plays Westminster.

Edward I was first at Dunfermline Abbey in 1303, and used it as his winter headquarters, he returned in 2017 in the guise of Stephen Dillane who played the role in the film.

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Monument Manager Anne-Marie O’Reilly said: “This is the first time that Dunfermline Abbey has been used for filming recently so we were beyond excited to have the crew here.

“There were two swans in cages either side of a throne that was built over the remains of the Holy Rude screen, and the extras spent the day in the Abbey Church of Dunfermline right beside the tomb of Robert the Bruce whilst waiting to film.”

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Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow

Picked to feature as Greyfriar’s Cathedral and the Lord’s Hall in Outlaw King, viewers will be able to spot the beautiful, impressive interiors of Glasgow Cathedral.

The set designers transformed Glasgow Cathedral to look like an authentic medieval cathedral. Glass cabinets in the lower church could not be moved and were therefore covered to look like altars. Grills and slabs were covered, and huge candelabras were brought in to create a dramatic ambience.

Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian

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Linlithgow Palace’s showpiece, its ornate fountain at the centre of the courtyard, is easily recognisable in Outlaw King. The Palace plays Bruce’s castle chapel.

“The courtyard of the palace was transformed with barrels of ale, sacks of grain, carts stacked with vegetables and small fires with cauldrons above cooking all sorts of medieval fare,” said Monument Manager, Alan Mowat.

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He added: “Extras sat on benches at tables eating and drinking while others were mending cartwheels. It was amazing to see the knights on horseback thundering through the entrance of the palace.

“My team were most impressed by the complete alteration done to our plate-glass shop door. A template was built to cover the door and surrounding windows, this was painted and textured to make it look like one of our stone walls. It easily fooled anyone who didn’t know there was a door there.

“It was also fantastic to watch the coronation scene that was shot outside the palace, it was a beautiful evening and the sunset turned the palace a stunning orange tinge.”

Special effects

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Nicki Scott, Cultural Resources Advisor at HES said the skill of the art department had been “fantastic” as historic sites transformed.

She added: “Seeing the temporary structures that were built at sites like Doune Castle and Craigmillar Castle gave us such an impression of what the courtyards and surrounding would have been like.

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“It was near impossible to tell, even close up, what was fake stone and what was real. It was rather unsettling seeing Doune Castle ‘on fire’, even knowing it was special effects.

“We owe so much to the works teams in making filming projects like this happen, it places huge demands on them and we couldn’t make it work without their efforts.”

A version of this article, by Kara ter Morsche, marketing executive at Historic Environment Scotland, first appeared on the organisation’s blog.