Based on the non-fiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by journalist Martin Sixsmith, Philomena is a film directed by Stephen Frears starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope). Philomena centers around a mother's search - with Sixsmith's help - for her son who was taken away from her almost 50 years ago without her consent.

Accolades aplenty, Philomena was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress for Judi Dench, Best Adapted Screenplay for Coogan and Pope, and Best Original Score for Alexander Desplat at the 86th Academy Awards. It was also nominated for four BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globes.

Filmed in beautiful Northern Ireland, England, Maryland, and iconic Washington, D.C., Philomena is not just an award-caliber film, but also a visual feast. Let's now visit the 12 gorgeous - and some even mysterious - film locations of Philomena.

 

1. PETER OLSSON'S HOUSE

The Conways' house in Potomac, Maryland stars in Philomena as Peter Olsson's house - image via Google.

The Conways' house in Potomac, Maryland stars in Philomena as Peter Olsson's house - image via Google.

For the Maryland shoot, most of the scouting responsibilities fell into the hands of location scout Carol Flaisher. Her mission was to find a home with a nice long driveway in a rural area of Maryland. And should the house come with a few horses too, that would be even better. Ms. Flaisher patiently drove around Montgomery County until she spotted Bill and Diana Conway’s colonial farmhouse on River Road in Potomac, one of Maryland's most affluent towns.

The Conways' house was originally built in 1820 by Thomas Levi Offutt. Captain John McDonald, a Civil War veteran and state legislator, later bought the house. (He also helped change the town's name from Offutt’s Crossroads to Potomac.) In 1873, the house was burned down in a fire and Captain MacDonald built a brand new house on the original foundation. From 1949 to 1972 the house belonged to Newbold Noyes, editor of the Evening Star. The Conways' house has had many names over the years. One of its most interesting names is "Trespassers W" (a Winnie The Pooh reference). With such history, no wonder there are rumors that "Trespassers W" may even be haunted.

Screenshot from Philomena of Peter Olsson's house (the Conways' house in Potomac, Maryland - in real life).

Screenshot from Philomena of Peter Olsson's house (the Conways' house in Potomac, Maryland - in real life).

Flaisher is good at her job. It didn’t take long before she convinced the Conways to let the production film at their house. As a matter of fact, the Conways were thrilled to have their home be a film location for a Judi Dench movie. Flaisher has been a location scout in the Washington D.C. area for over 30 years. Philomena is the latest in a long list of productions she’s worked on. Her portfolio includes White House Down, Body of Lies, True Lies, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Wedding Crashers (Eastern Shore).

“Once they find out what it is, very few people say no,” Flaisher said. “Because it’s fun! It’s different. It’s something to talk about.”

Most of us often wonders what happens to a location once it's chosen for filming. For starters, the rooms where the filming takes place usually get an entirely different face. New furniture comes in, existing furniture temporarily takes a vacation. The walls sport new colors and new drapes grace the windows.


Once they find out what it is, very few people say no because it’s fun! It’s different. It’s something to talk about.
— Carol Flaisher - Location Scout, on how property owners typically react to renting their property for filming.

All these changes shouldn’t make the owners worried however. The crew carefully snaps photos of the rooms before the swap and takes great care to put everything back the way it was after the production wraps. Producers are very serious about honoring their contracts. Clauses about restoring the properties used for filming back to the way they were before are always included in the contract.

Screenshot of a scene at Peter Olsson's house - the Conways' Potomac, Maryland house in real life.

Screenshot of a scene at Peter Olsson's house - the Conways' Potomac, Maryland house in real life.

For the Philomena film set, the crew turned the Conways’ home into the house of Peter Olsson, the lover of Philomena Lee’s son. “You have no idea you’re 30 feet from River Road and the state highway with all these cars and trucks whizzing by,” Diana Conway describes the first scene in which Dench and Coogan drive up to the house. “I don’t know how they did that, but they made you feel like you’re just coming around this little country barn.”

Screenshot of Philomena and Martin driving up the long driveway leading to Peter Olsson's house (the Conways' Potomac house in real life).

Screenshot of Philomena and Martin driving up the long driveway leading to Peter Olsson's house (the Conways' Potomac house in real life).

Screenshot:  Peter Olsson's house as seen from afar by Philomena and Martin (both in the car).

Screenshot:  Peter Olsson's house as seen from afar by Philomena and Martin (both in the car).

Filming also took place in the Conways’ vegetable garden. In a few scenes, the audience can even see their dog Athena running around. And yes! The Conways also met Judi Dench and director Stephen Frears. As a token of gratitude, the production gave the Conways' Potomac house a fresh coat of new paint after filming is over.

Diana Conway and her daughter Alexandra, 15, in front of their Potomac, Md., home, which was used as one of the film locations in Philomena. (Image via Washington Post.)

Diana Conway and her daughter Alexandra, 15, in front of their Potomac, Md., home, which was used as one of the film locations in Philomena. (Image via Washington Post.)


2. ST. ANTHONY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH

Screenshot from Philomena of the church where Philomena and Martin stopped in for a brief visit. In real life this location is St. Paul's Community Church in Poolesville, MD.

Screenshot from Philomena of the church where Philomena and Martin stopped in for a brief visit. In real life this location is St. Paul's Community Church in Poolesville, MD.

Another Maryland location featured in Philomena is the historical St. Paul’s Community Church on Sugarland Road in Poolesville. Steve Coogan mentions in the movie's commentary that this was also the first church to perform a mixed race marriage in America in 1966. Coogan also shares that there's a secret passage way to escape the "KKK" beneath the church. 

For the movie, the crew transformed the historically Protestant St. Paul’s church into the very Catholic St. Anthony’s Church. They built confessional boxes inside the church, repaired the church’s bells, and even brought in a font for holy water which ends up playing an important role in the movie.

Screenshot: Philomena leaving St. Anthony's Catholic Church. For the movie, the production team added the congressional boxes on both sides of the church's interior.

Screenshot: Philomena leaving St. Anthony's Catholic Church. For the movie, the production team added the congressional boxes on both sides of the church's interior.

Screenshot: Martin standing inside St. Paul's Community Church where the production team added religious elements to turn it into a Catholic church, including the font of holy water featured in the foreground.

Screenshot: Martin standing inside St. Paul's Community Church where the production team added religious elements to turn it into a Catholic church, including the font of holy water featured in the foreground.

For a scene that lasts just a few minutes on screen, the BBC production spent two days filming at St. Paul's. When she first heard a film production wanted to use the church in a movie, Caroline Taylor, the consultant coordinating filming logistics between the church and the film producers, thought it was a local cable company. Since the church has a rich history as the center of a freed slave community whose descendants still live nearby, it would make an interesting topic for a documentary.

Behind-the-scene photo of Philomena filming at St. Paul's Community Church - image via Google.

Behind-the-scene photo of Philomena filming at St. Paul's Community Church - image via Google.

“To walk into the church knowing what it was [before] … and seeing the transformation of the church, it was absolutely beautiful,” said Gwen Hebron Reese, trustee of St. Paul’s and an extra in Philomena.


3. THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL

The Lincoln Memorial - image via Google.

The Lincoln Memorial - image via Google.

Countless of movies and television shows have been filmed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It's one of the most iconic locations in the world and the main reason why the Philomena production made its trek to Washington. The Philomena script specifically calls for a scene at the Lincoln Memorial. Even when faced with the threat of Hurricane Sandy, the production still didn't give up its mission of crossing the Atlantic Ocean to film at this historically-significant location.

Screenshot: Martin and Philomena visit the Lincoln Memorial when they are in D.C. in search of her son.

Screenshot: Martin and Philomena visit the Lincoln Memorial when they are in D.C. in search of her son.

The rules and regulations for filming at the D.C. Monuments are strict. The production couldn't use any lighting other than the ambient lighting of the Lincoln Monument itself. They also couldn't block the Monument off from tourists and visitors during filming so most of the filming there was done late at night.

“You can’t have more than five people in chamber, including your crew," said producer Tracey Seaward in the film's Production Notes. "And you’re not supposed to record sound in the chamber.”

Screenshot: A wide view of Martin and Philomena as they visit The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Screenshot: A wide view of Martin and Philomena as they visit The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The above scene in Philomena is an unspoken homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, don't you think?

Screenshot from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington filmed at The Lincoln Memorial.

Screenshot from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington filmed at The Lincoln Memorial.

To solve the lighting restrictions, Martin's and Philomena's crucial conversation at the Monument was done in front of a hot dog stand which nicely provided just enough lighting to make everything look beautiful.

Screenshot: Martin and Philomena in a deep conversation in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The hot dog stand and the Monument in the background provided enough crucial and ambient lighting for the entire frame.

Screenshot: Martin and Philomena in a deep conversation in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The hot dog stand and the Monument in the background provided enough crucial and ambient lighting for the entire frame.

4. THE WASHINGTON COURT HOTEL

The Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C. - image via the hotel's website.

The Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C. - image via the hotel's website.

The Washington Court Hotel is a sophisticated, independent Capitol Hill hotel located near Union Station and Capitol Hill. It also has a brief appearance as a film location in Philomena. Remember the scene when Martin drives his car to the front of their Washington hotel? It was filmed on location at the Washington Court Hotel.

Screenshot from Philomena of Martin's car puling up in front of the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Screenshot from Philomena of Martin's car puling up in front of the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Interestingly enough, only the exterior of the hotel made it to the big screen. The interior scenes were filmed in another hotel in London, the London Marriott Hotel Regents Park.

The London Marriott Hotel Regents Park stood in for the Washington Court Hotel's interiors - images via hotel's website.

The London Marriott Hotel Regents Park stood in for the Washington Court Hotel's interiors - images via hotel's website.

A few D.C. artworks on the wall completed the illusion. The Marriott hotel in London was magically transformed into a Marriott hotel room in Washington, D.C.

Screenshot: Philomena and Martin in the D.C. hotel room. This was actually filmed at the London Marriott Hotel Regents Park. Check out the artwork of the U.S. Capitol on the wall behind them. Nice touch.

Screenshot: Philomena and Martin in the D.C. hotel room. This was actually filmed at the London Marriott Hotel Regents Park. Check out the artwork of the U.S. Capitol on the wall behind them. Nice touch.

With a bit of CGI magic, we have the view of the Capitol building from Philomena's hotel window, even though it was actually filmed in London.

Screenshot of Martin and Philomena standing in her "D.C. hotel room," but the scene was actually filmed in a Marriott in north London.

Screenshot of Martin and Philomena standing in her "D.C. hotel room," but the scene was actually filmed in a Marriott in north London.

Again ... this is another homage for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Screenshot from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Screenshot from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

6. Chinatown Express Restaurant

Blink and you will miss this location. After finding out about some very bad news while in D.C. (I'm being vague here so as not to spoil the movie for you in case you haven't seen it), Philomena and Martin were in a car on their way to the airport. The car passes a young couple in love hugging joyfully in public - something that was frowned upon when Philomena was young. This very brief scene was filmed in D.C.'s Chinatown, at the corner of 7th and H Streets in front of Chinatown Express Restaurant, a hot local hangout in Chinatown.

Screenshot from Philomena of a scene filmed in front of Chinatown Express Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Screenshot from Philomena of a scene filmed in front of Chinatown Express Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Screenshot from Philomena of a scene filmed in front of Chinatown Express Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Screenshot from Philomena of a scene filmed in front of Chinatown Express Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

If you're ever in D.C., this popular hole-in-the-wall eatery is worth a visit. They make their noodle fresh here and the food is delicious and authentic. 


7. THE NATIONAL MALL

An aerial view of the National Mall flanked on each side by the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol - image via Google.

An aerial view of the National Mall flanked on each side by the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol - image via Google.

Filming in Washington, D.C. is not complete until you have a scene at The National Mall. The Mall is a national park in Washington, D.C. which includes the area between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol, with the Washington Monument slightly off center in between.

In Philomena, Martin goes for an evening jog on The National Mall when he visits D.C., passing the beautiful and famous Smithsonian Building in the background.

Screenshot from Philomena of a scene of Martin jogging filmed on the National Mall.

Screenshot from Philomena of a scene of Martin jogging filmed on the National Mall.

In the below screenshot, Martin and Philomena go for a walk on the Mall toward the end of their D.C. visit. The U.S. Capitol sits prominently in the background of the frame.

Screenshot: Philomena and Martin on their walk on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Screenshot: Philomena and Martin on their walk on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol Building.

8. THE TIDAL BASIN

DC's Tidal Basin in the spring - image via Google.

DC's Tidal Basin in the spring - image via Google.

Another iconic D.C. location is The Tidal Basin. Approximately 107 acres, The Basin is a partially man-made reservoir connected to the Potomac River. It's the main reason why each spring millions of tourists flock to D.C. during the National Cherry Blossom Festival with their cameras. Many Washington monuments were constructed on or near the Tidal Basin such as the Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

In Philomena, there's a brief scene in which Martin was jogging along The Tidal Basin in the evening. The wide shots of that scene were filmed on location in D.C., but interestingly enough the close-up of Martin on the phone was filmed against a green screen with the Tidal Basin added to the background.

Screenshot from Philomena of Martin jogging by The Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

Screenshot from Philomena of Martin jogging by The Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

Screenshot from Philomena of Martin by The Tidal Basin. However, this was actually a CG shot against a green screen with The Tidal Basin added in the background, as revealed by Coogan in the DVD's commentary.

Screenshot from Philomena of Martin by The Tidal Basin. However, this was actually a CG shot against a green screen with The Tidal Basin added in the background, as revealed by Coogan in the DVD's commentary.

If Coogan didn't share with us that tidbit in the DVD's commentary, none of us would have been the wiser. Talk about movie magic!


9. STANSTED AIRPORT

Stansted Airport, one of the filming locations of Philomena - image via Google.

Stansted Airport, one of the filming locations of Philomena - image via Google.

The airport scene in Philomena was filmed at Stansted Airport, an international airport located at Stansted Mountfitchet northeast of Central London. Kim Ruskin, Stansted Airport’s Commercial Filming Manager, was thrilled to have the production filming at the airport.

"We were delighted to welcome Dame Judi, Steve and the Philomena crew to Stansted," said Ruskin in a press release. "They filmed scenes at number of locations around the terminal, including check in and the domestic baggage reclaim hall. As always, we planned the shoot meticulously and nothing was left to chance to make sure it didn’t get in the way of the normal operation of the airport."

Stansted Airport is no stranger to the big screen. Filmmakers love the airport for its many tall floor-to-ceiling windows letting in a generous amount of light which is perfect for filming. “Traveling through Stansted you could find yourself rubbing shoulders with many famous actors and actresses earning their living filming scenes for a major movie, TV show or advertisement," said Ruskin. "Directors love the airport because the light is so good and there are lots of different backdrops to film against."

Screenshot from Philomena of Martin and Philomena riding on a luggage cart at Stansted Airport. The large floor-to-ceiling windows at the airport provide a beautiful backdrop and much-needed natural lighting for the film set.

Screenshot from Philomena of Martin and Philomena riding on a luggage cart at Stansted Airport. The large floor-to-ceiling windows at the airport provide a beautiful backdrop and much-needed natural lighting for the film set.

In addition to Philomena, Stansted Airport has starred in many movies and TV shows including Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies, Brigit Jones and the BBC’s hit comedy Come Fly With Me. Also shot there recently was Connection, a short movie starring Jude Law.


Directors love the airport because the light is so good and there are lots of different backdrops to film against.
— Kim Ruskin, Stansted Airport's Commercial Filming Manager

10. THE DUFFERIN ARMS PUB

The Dufferin Arms Pub in Killyleagh, County Down - one of Philomena's film locations in Northern Ireland - image via The Dufferin Arms' website.

The Dufferin Arms Pub in Killyleagh, County Down - one of Philomena's film locations in Northern Ireland - image via The Dufferin Arms' website.

The Dufferin Arms in Killyleagh, Co Down, is the charming pub where Philomena was filmed. To celebrate the premiere of the movie, the pub even held a party in its honor. Austin McCullough, the proprietor of The Dufferin Arms said he was delighted that his pub was chosen to be the film location for an authentic pub scene in Philomena.

During the filming, Mr. McCullough was responsible for keeping the pub's fire burning while a few short scenes between Philomena, her daughter Jane (portrayed by Anna Maxwell Martin), Martin and the pub owners were shot and re-shot many times. "They must have done the scene 30 times," said McCullough. "I could not tell the difference between the first time and the last time. It was a tedious process for them."

Screenshot filmed at The Dufferin Arms in Killyleagh, Co Down of Northern Ireland: Steve Coogan and Anna Maxwell Martin who portrays Philomena's daughter.

Screenshot filmed at The Dufferin Arms in Killyleagh, Co Down of Northern Ireland: Steve Coogan and Anna Maxwell Martin who portrays Philomena's daughter.

11. THE MOURNES OF NORTHERN IRELAND

The Mournes of Northern Ireland - photo by Rebecca L. Latson.

The Mournes of Northern Ireland - photo by Rebecca L. Latson.

Philomena was also filmed in Northern Ireland against the gorgeous and magnificent backdrop of the Mournes. The Mournes are a granite mountain range in County Down of Northern Ireland which is well-known for its stunning natural beauty. It has inspired numerous creative works in the past including The Mountains of Mourne, a song written by Percy French in 1896, C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and John Lennon's song The Luck of the Irish.

Screenshot from Philomena featuring Northern Ireland's breathtaking Mournes mountains in the background.

Screenshot from Philomena featuring Northern Ireland's breathtaking Mournes mountains in the background.

Screenshot from Philomena filmed against the beautiful backdrop of The Mournes in Northern Ireland.

Screenshot from Philomena filmed against the beautiful backdrop of The Mournes in Northern Ireland.

12. ROSCREA CONVENT - HAREFIELD HOUSE

Harefield Grove Farm in England became the film location for Roscrea Convent in Philomena.

Harefield Grove Farm in England became the film location for Roscrea Convent in Philomena.

Harefield House is part of Harefield Grove Farm, a small estate three miles northeast of London's famous Pinewood Studios. The property includes a manor house (where Philomena was filmed), outbuildings, barns and greenhouses. Harefield Grove Farm has been a film location for many productions in the past, among which were The Adventures of Black Beauty, Dave Allen At Large, The Professionals, and The Two Ronnies.

For Philomena, Harefield House was transformed into the Roscrea Convent where Philomena and her infant son Anthony had lived. An interesting note I learned while watching the film's commentary is that the red brick building to the right of Roscrea (see below image) was added in using C.G. afterward. (That building in real life is on the estate of Shirburn Castle, approximately 15-20 miles away from Harefield House. See number 12 below.)

Screenshot from Philomena of Roscrea Abbey filmed at Harefield House outside London.

Screenshot from Philomena of Roscrea Abbey filmed at Harefield House outside London.

Inside Harefield House, the reception room was 'dressed’ to resemble the convent's interior complete with religious statues, pictures of Christ, crucifixes hanging from the walls, photographs of nuns, and religious artifacts on every available surface.

Screenshot: the foyer inside Roscrea Abbey filmed at Harefield House.

Screenshot: the foyer inside Roscrea Abbey filmed at Harefield House.

Screenshot of a scene filmed inside Harefield House, which stands in for Roscrea Abbey.

Screenshot of a scene filmed inside Harefield House, which stands in for Roscrea Abbey.

13. ROSCREA CONVENT - SHIRBURN CASTLE

Shirburn Castle - image via Google.

Shirburn Castle - image via Google.

Remember I mentioned that part of the facade of Roscrea Abbey was digitally added in during the post-production process? The red brick building next to the main house is actually miles away located on the mysterious estate of Shirburn Castle owned by the Macclesfield family (not to be confused with the more well-known Sherborne Castle also in Oxfordshire owned by the Wingfield Digby Family).

Screenshot: Roscrea Convent, with the red brick building from Shirburn Castle added in on the right digitally in post-production.

Screenshot: Roscrea Convent, with the red brick building from Shirburn Castle added in on the right digitally in post-production.

Privately-owned and not open to the public, Shirburn Castle remains a bit of a mystery. I couldn't find much background information on the estate other than it was built in the 14th century, circa 1378, on the site of a moated grange.

In addition to serving as an extension of the main house at Roscrea Abbey, Shirburn Castle was also where the cemetery scene in Philomena was filmed.

Spoiler alert - in case you haven't seen the movie. Here's a screenshot of the cemetery scene from Philomena, filmed at Shirburn Castle.

Spoiler alert - in case you haven't seen the movie. Here's a screenshot of the cemetery scene from Philomena, filmed at Shirburn Castle.

The cemetery at Shirburn Castle - image via Google.

The cemetery at Shirburn Castle - image via Google.

Shirburn village was also the film location of Brad Pitt's war film Fury. David Ayer, who wrote and directed Fury, said: "The expanse of the countryside lends itself perfectly to our story’s setting and the immense skies and light of the area have given the film an unmatchable quality."


The expanse of the countryside lends itself perfectly to our story’s setting and the immense skies and light of the area have given the film an unmatchable quality.
— David Ayer, director and writer of Fury on filming in Shirburn Village.

Fury will be in theaters in November 2014. Philomena is now available on iTunes and Amazon.

For information on filming in Maryland, visit our client The Maryland Film Office.

For information on filming in Washington, D.C., visit our client The Office of Motion Picture and Television Development (aka The D.C. Film Office).

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Banner image via Google.

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