It was The Last Knight versus a knight of the realm in Britain this week as the latest Transformers film sparked outrage for its use of Winston Churchill’s former home as a Nazi headquarters swathed in swastikas.
Images obtained by the Sun newspaper showed Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of the British prime minister who stood up to Hitler, draped with banners bearing the Nazi symbol. The newspaper reported that extras dressed as SS troops marched up the entrance steps of the palace Wednesday night, flanked by German vehicles and military equipment.
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The move has roused the ire of British war veterans. Tony Hayes, head of the Veteran’s Association UK, told Variety that using Churchill’s home as the location for such a scene was particularly distressing.
“It’s a total disgrace. Blenheim is the ancestral home of our wartime leader,” said Hayes. “A lot of the older generation find it totally appalling. It’s an insult.”
Hayes suggested that the film could have added the banners and other Nazi imagery in post-production, using CGI, to cause less offense. Preferably, the producers of Transformers: The Last Knight would have chosen a different location altogether — “really anywhere else in the country, except Buckingham Palace,” Hayes said.
Bleinheim Palace is regularly used as a filming location – for example, in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and the James Bond movie SPECTRE.
“I know it’s a film, but it’s symbolically disrespectful to Churchill. He will be turning in his grave,” Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told the Sun. Churchill is buried only a mile from Blenheim Palace, which sits on a sprawling estate about 60 miles northwest of London, in Oxfordshire.
Churchill was born there in 1874. The palace was built in the early 18th century as a gift for John Churchill, the 1st Earl of Marlborough, for whose father Winston Churchill was named. A designated World Heritage site, it is currently the home of Jamie Spencer-Churchill, the 12th Duke of Marlborough.
Transformers: The Last Knight is currently doing extensive location shooting around Britain. It is once again being directed by Michael Bay (pictured), with Mark Wahlberg, who joined the franchise in Transformers: Age of Extinction in 2014, back on board. The film also sees Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, who sat out the last film after appearing in the first three, return to the franchise. Anthony Hopkins — another knight of the realm, like Churchill — joins the cast.
[Update, Sept. 24 at 12:45 p.m. PT: Speaking to the BBC from the film’s set, Bay addressed the controversy. “People have not been fortunate enough to read the script and they don’t know that Churchill in this movie is a big hero,” the filmmaker said. “Churchill would be smiling. When you see the movie you’ll understand.”]
With a reported budget of $250 million, Transformers: The Last Knight is the fifth installment of the franchise, which has grossed nearly $3.8 billion to date for distributor Paramount and remains one of the studio’s key franchises. It is produced by Ian Bryce, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Don Murphy for Hasbro and Paramount. The film will be released worldwide in June 2017.
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