Back in time with Britannia

Filming Britannia at the Temple of Concord and Victory, Stowe, Buckinghamshire.

A spellbinding mix of history and fantasy, Sky original series Britannia re-imagines the Roman invasion and occupation of Britain from A.D. 43 onwards. Places we care for have been used as filming locations since the series began – so with series 3 now available on Sky Atlantic, we caught up with Locations Manager Robin Pim to find out how the crew managed to recreate Roman Britain in the 21st century.

Into the wild

While many film and TV productions make use of the historic houses and gardens we look after, the crew of Britannia were mainly in search of wild landscapes that could pass for a time when Britain was still home to nomadic Celtic tribes and (at least in the series) a few druids. 

‘Britannia demands a variety of visually stunning and often unusual landscapes,’ said Locations Manager Robin Pim. ‘Desk-based location research will throw up plenty of ideas to entice directors and writers, but it’s only when you see locations in the flesh that you can gauge whether they’re practical for scenes that might involve horses, carriages and large numbers of cast and crew.'

For series 3 the locations team planned to cherry-pick locations across the whole country, including the most remote parts of the Western Isles and the dramatic landscapes of Snowdonia. However, the outbreak of Covid and subsequent restrictions meant they had to quickly change their plans. 

Fortunately they were still able to find the settings they needed, including Roughtor in Cornwall and the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, as well as returning to locations from previous series, such as the druids’ camp at Ashridge in Hertfordshire. 

Behind the scenes of Britannia | © Sky UK Ltd
Crew members holding clapper boards in front of a view of Roman soldiers walking through a village set.
Behind the scenes of Britannia | © Sky UK Ltd

Taking care of the countryside

The crew go to great lengths to make sure that their impact on the countryside is minimised.

'A lot of the best landscapes are often protected by special designations, and come with strict conditions of use,’ explained Robin. ‘Protecting the environment has never been more important, so it’s often a finely balanced decision as to which locations are fit for purpose in terms of the script, while also being suitable for filming.’

‘In advance of filming we contract specialist consultants to advise on what protective measures need to be taken to avoid damaging these sensitive environments.'

Creating Britannia

This careful approach means that crews can safely make use of some spectacular historic locations, including the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire. 'Uffington was picked directly from the shelf, as it reflected more or less exactly what was in the script and required very little set dressing,' said Robin.

In contrast, some of the other locations needed a bit of work to make them screen-ready. At Ashridge in Hertfordshire, the props, set dressing, special effects and lighting crews spent upwards of four weeks creating intricately planned sets in and amongst the trees. 

'It took just as long to pull the sets out and restore the landscape, though this had a lot to do with the impact of Covid and appalling bad luck with the weather.'

At Stowe in Buckinghamshire, one of the ornate garden follies required took much less time to be transformed into temple in the Roman town of ‘Verulamium’ (modern day St Albans). 'Banners were carefully rigged between columns and urns dotted around with SFX smoke, but it was the buildings themselves that were the real stars at Stowe – so we were able to get in and out relatively quickly,' said Robin.

How filming helps

As well as giving you the chance to see some of your favourite places on screen, series like Britannia provide valuable support for the locations involved. Thanks to the location fees and our partnership with Sky, we can continue carrying out vital conservation work – preserving historic houses, treasured collections and wild landscapes for generations to come.

Locations we look after in series three

Ready to travel back in time? Take a look at our handy locations guide to find out where your favourite scenes were filmed, and discover how they were transformed to stand in for Roman Britain.

Series two

Series one