William and Kate: The Digital Reconstruction of St Andrews

Imagined and real spaces. The Old Course on screen.

Imagined and real spaces. The Old Course on screen.

The tourist industry in St Andrews has changed significantly in the 21st century, now defined as much by Prince William’s four years at the University, as it is by the more traditional markers (Golf and the University). As the birthplace of Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s love story, faded cut-outs of the couple’s faces sit in souvenir shop windows, prospective students learn which halls the couple resided in, while a coffee shop pokes fun at this popular fascination with a sign that reads “Where Kate dumped Wills.” Given such international interest in the Royal family, it is little surprise that St Andrews should also be the setting for a made-for-television film about the couple.

However, what is striking here is that while much of William and Kate (2011) is set in St Andrews, filming did not take place in the town. So while East Sands turned in to the Kent beaches in Chariots of Fire, and the Cathedral grounds provided the unidentified setting for the final action scene in the Bollywood film Aarzoo, the creators of William and Kate chose not to film in St Andrews, instead casting other locations to ‘fill in’ for the town.

Days after their engagement was announced on 16 November 2010, the rapid production of William and Kate began. Lifetime, an American television channel, collaborated with director Mark Rosman and screenwriter Nancey Silvers to tell the couple’s budding love story. Barely five months later, and a week before the Royal wedding, the film aired in the UK and internationally. While prospective international tourists – and indeed university students – witnessed a fairytale setting, one defined by a heritage most recently popularized in British exports such as Harry Potter, for local residents the depiction of St Andrews was more striking.

The film opens with two shots of the beautiful coastal town, followed by an aerial shot of medieval university buildings. The majestic landscapes paired with the architecture convinces the audience that this is the University of St Andrews, yet it is obvious to the insider that the Great Quadrangle at the University of Oxford assumes the role of the Scottish University (and, if in any doubt, the classic red double-decker bus is a further clue!).

We next see William being taken to university by his father Prince Charles, played by Chariots of Fire’s Ben Cross. The two walk down a corridor with a view of the majestic Hamilton Grand, another shot that may shock locals. Nothing looks out of the ordinary for those unfamiliar with St Andrews, yet the perfectly placed building through which father and son walk is clearly digitally imposed. It is safe to assume that a film studio would not get planning permission to build on the Old Course and so while Ben Cross and the Hamilton Grand (which was renamed the Carlton Hotel in Chariots) may be reunited on screen, the two remain in an LA studio.

During production, director Rosman spoke of sending his cast and crew overseas with the Daily Mail stating, ‘To sell the fact that we’re in the world of the Royals, we need lavish sets, exotic locales, plus England and Scotland. We have a small budget and we’re in Los Angeles. Money is tight.’ Rosman is evidently interested in bringing the isolated town to a broader audience, even with a small production window and limited budget, and so uses digital compositor Chase Bickel to reimagine St Andrews for the screen. In turn, set decorator Penelope Stames helped turned UCLA’s campus and the interior of LA’s Park Plaza Hotel into different St Andrews locations. When interviewed by Hello Magazine, she stated, ‘It’s Scotland. It [the film’s story] is supposed to be in St Andrews, or some hotel, or somewhere – what do I know? I’m an American.’ Convenience seemed to be more important than accuracy, therefore causing St Andrews to look more like an Ivy League than the historical British university.

Producer Frank Konigsber felt William and Kate was able to make the love story and town ‘more accessible to millions.’ While the Americanized film may have upset locals, the inaccuracy of the digitally rebuilt town could also be seen as a “blessing in disguise,” according to Camilla Luddington, who played the princess-to-be. This recreated fantasy world helped to present St Andrews and its University to international tourists and what’s more, the rebuilt town would create an even greater appreciation for those who identify with the non-digitized beauty of St Andrews.


Emalani Artiss (May 2016)


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