Loosely based on the rise of Catherine the Great, Empress of All Russia, Channel 4’s new comedy-drama, The Great, is downright addictive. Starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, this witty, historically inaccurate satire about the youth and marriage of Russia’s longest-reigning female ruler is full of drama, hilarity and savage brutality. However, despite the story being set in 18th-century Russia, the filming locations for this series included a ‘great’ many in England (see what we did there?). From Kentish castles to Hertfordshire historic houses, here are the stately locations featured in The Great.
The Great filming locations: Belvoir Castle
Rising over the Vale of Belvoir, the fairytale turrets and towers of Belvoir Castle are most fitting for a show about a Russian empress. The Regent’s Gallery, a lovely 17th-century drawing room, features in a number of scenes in The Great, including the room where the Emperor and Empress take breakfast, as well as the place where the ladies of the court gather. Located in Grantham, Leicestershire, the ancestral home of the Duke of Rutland is said to be one of the country’s finest Regency castles. When its gates reopen, take a tour of the castle to get a glimpse into the lives of the many people who’ve lived there, or wander through the vast gardens.
The Great filming locations: Castle Howard
York, North Yorkshire
North Yorkshire’s palatial 18th-century palace makes for an impressive backdrop to many a period drama – most recently in Netflix’s Bridgerton. In The Great, however, it’s Castle Howard’s Atlas Fountain that makes an appearance, in the scene where Catherine is introduced to the ladies of court throwing ‘balls’ (a game similar to bowls). The Atlas fountain, which depicts Atlas carrying Earth on his shoulders, sits opposite the grand manor house within the 1,000 acres of dramatic parkland. Once restrictions ease, pay a visit to the domed castle (which took 100 years to finish) to check out its lavish staterooms, ever-changing exhibitions and splendid statue trail that loops around the gardens.
The Great filming locations: Ham House and Gardens
Down in London Town, beautiful Ham House and Gardens – which has also starred in Downton Abbey and Anna Karenina – was also cast in The Great. This unique 17th-century treasure trove sits on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond and houses a superb collection of art, furniture and textiles. It’s also said to be one of the most haunted houses in Britain. If that sounds like something that ticks all your boxes, pop into this National Trust property for a nose around before exploring the restored gardens, complete with summerhouses and picnic spots aplenty.
The Great filming locations: Hatfield House
Elizabeth I’s childhood home in Hertfordshire is another sought-after filming location that featured in Season One of The Great. The Jacobean house only features in episode one, and is most recognisable when Catherine first meets her husband in the chequer-floored Marble Hall (home to the famous Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I). Other scenes in the episode take place in the gold-ceilinged Long Gallery, as well as the cavernous Banqueting Hall which acted as the backdrop to the couple’s wedding. The rest of the Tudor abode is equally as superb, from the grand staircase adorned with lions and cherubs to the restored Victorian kitchen and a fully furnished library. Hatfield House is currently closed for the season (and because of COVID), but we’re looking forward to visiting this iconic landmark again soon.
The Great filming locations: Hever Castle
Further south in the Garden of England is Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. While the castle is full of fine furniture, tapestries and heaps of fascinating history, its gardens are equally as striking, so it’s easy to see why they were picked to feature in the show. Framing one end of the estate’s 38-acre lake, the Italian Loggia (designed by previous owner, New York millionaire William Waldorf Astor) appears in episode eight, when Peter meets the King and Queen of Sweden. Overlooking the manmade lake, the loggia is surrounded by grottoes, fountains and a myriad of perfectly pruned gardens. The grounds also host traditional jousting tournaments, archery lessons and Hever Castle’s famous water maze.
The Great filming locations: St Clere Estate
Just down the road from Hever Castle is the St Clere Estate, once owned by Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas Boleyn. The Kent estate was used for filming the battle scenes in episodes five and seven so, like Hever, we only get to glimpse its handsome gardens. While St Clere House isn’t typically open the public (other than for weddings and meetings), the splendour of the estate and its grounds are open for a wealth of outdoor activities, including archery, garden tours, quad biking and mountain biking.
With restrictions easing across England, please continue to follow government guidance and remember to plan ahead and check attraction websites before travelling. Take a look at our top tips on how to escape the everyday responsibly to see how you can make the most out of your day trips and breaks.