Turning Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s book into a film was a gigantic feat.
Steven Spielberg began by hiring the New Zealander visual effects team behind the Lord of the Rings films, but they still needed spectacular footage to work with, including a land fit for giants – or, as it turned out, an island.
“In the book, it says Giant Country is a northern country,” explains location manager David Broder, whose previous films include The Imitation Game and The King’s Speech.
“We researched the whole of northern Europe, from Iceland to the Faroe Islands – Norway, Sweden, Denmark. We had a team of six people researching for months and the original plan was to film in various locations.
“But in the end we decided the Isle of Skye was the best place because it has a combination of great locations that the visual effects people could turn into the giants’ land. We also took an aerial unit up to The Orkneys and filmed at The Old Man of Hoy, but we were primarily based on Skye.”
Last July, Broder and his 50-strong team decamped to the Outer Hebridean island. Look out for the dramatic cliffs and unusual rock formations of The Quiraing and a rocky pinnacle known as The Old Man of Storr. Both are part of the Trotternish ridge, a massive landslip in the north of Skye.
The Quiraing, Skye
Broder also captured on camera grassy cone-shaped hills called The Faerie Glen and The Cuillin Hills, a rocky mountain range that is also known as Black Cuillin because its peaks are mainly composed of a volcanic black rock. It was a typical Scottish summer – changeable – but the scenery more than compensated. “It was amazing. I’ve filmed up there before and I love it. We had a great time.”
At the end of the film, all the carnivorous giants are corralled on an island. That isle is one of The Shiants, three privately-owned islands that lie 12 miles off the northern tip of Skye. In real life, no one lives there but they are home to a huge puffin colony.
The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye
As the only Brit among the key crew members, Broder was keen to do his country proud. “As you can imagine, the Americans and New Zealanders have a different view of Britain than we have. So I tried to show the best of Britain in a very cinematic way.”
So as well as Skye, cinema-goers will see other famous sights…
Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant take the perilous journey to warn Her Majesty the Queen – played by Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton in the movie – about the fearsome giants of Giant Country, and persuade her that something needs to be done.
Broder and his team got permission to shoot the front of the real Buckingham Palace: “The Mall [the road linking Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace] is normally shut on a Saturday night so we shut it a little bit earlier and filmed all night – night and dawn shots.”
Human beans can visit Buckingham Palace between 23 July and 2 October and have their own royal adventure.
The rear of Buckingham Palace is actually Blenheim Palace, the 18th-century country house in Oxfordshire that was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. In the film, look out for the Italian Garden (complete with BFG!)
Boasting 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland, award-winning formal gardens, and a palace fit for royalty, Blenheim Palace also has its own Pleasure Gardens, where you can hop aboard the miniature train, get lost in the giant maze or visit the tropical butterfly house. It’s had dozens of silver screen cameos, most recently in Spectre (007), Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Cinderella.
Entry to the Palace, Park and Gardens is from £24.90 for adults and £13.90 for children.
The BFG’s giant footprints were created in the sand on the beach below handsome Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. Barrels of water were pumped over them to create the illusion that the tide has washed them away.
In the background of the scene, you’ll spy the historic castle that watches over the dramatic coastline 150 feet below. The beach was also used in the filming of the ITV drama Beowulf, along with nearby Druridge Bay.
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