“Fight and you may die,” said William Wallace, the guy who inspired Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. “Run and you will live–at least awhile. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!”
Well, maybe it wasn’t the actual William Wallace, a Scottish knight known for his foolhardiness during the Wars of Scottish Independence, who yelled these somewhat hollow words. Perhaps it was another Wallace, screenwriter Randall Wallace to be precise, who penned the Academy Award-nominated lines.
Either way, there’s a profound truth hidden under the most famous monologue from Braveheart, a movie with many flaws (including being totally untrue to history) but even more strengths, like Sophie Marceau’s stunning performance. And that truth is that you do not want to regret not doing what you could have done.
One thing every moviemaker will regret is not shooting a period flick in Estonia, a country of more castles than you’ll find anywhere near Burbank, California (or anywhere within 10,000 miles from Hollywood. Well, maybe Scotland, but that would be an entirely different ballgame).
There are more than 1000 castles and manors, most of them dating back to the 13th century. Built by German and Russian landlords, who were not loved by the ancestors of modern Estonians, by the way, many of these estates are today art galleries, boutique hotels and spas, and restaurants. The good news is that nothing is easier than turning a French restaurant into a movie set–as any producer knows.
Perhaps the most famous and unusual Estonian castle is the Taagepera in Taagepera village, only two and a half hours from Tallinn airport. The art nouveau design of the building is simply spectacular. Technically, the place is a mansion, but since it has a tower that is 40 metres tall attached to its west corner, and because the mansion house is too big to be a single mansion, it’s commonly called a castle. There’s also a family graveyard near the building, so if you’re thinking of adding some Dean Koontz-esque chill to a costume drama, this is your place.
Another notable Estonian castle is Toompea. Its late Baroque façade draws tens of thousands of visitors each year, probably because the Toompea Castle is in the center of Tallinn, the capital. The castle is a living testament to Estonian history–and every conqueror who took Estonia (and there have been many throughout the centuries) molded the building according to his own taste, which was rarely anything to admire. Regardless, the Toompea Castle, standing right across from the astonishing Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, is a beautiful building. Today, it accommodates the Estonian parliament, so getting a shooting permit might prove challenging unless you bring a former governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) or mayor (Clint Eastwood) with you.
And then there’s the Koluvere Castle, a building dating back to a time when being in the middle of Estonia was considered strategically important, but of course that was in the 13th century. The castle stands on an artificial island in a dammed up part of the Liivi River, but what makes this castle so distinctive is its round cannon tower that was added in the 16th century–right around the time firearms started to show up. From 1962 to late 1990s, the Koluvere Castle was used a retirement home for the mentally ill, so if horror is your thing, you will probably find inspiration here.
There are countless castles in Estonia. Pick one as your next location, and you may qualify for a cash rebate of up to 30% on eligible production costs.
Used photos: Visit Estonia