Production: ‘Raffles and the Princes’: Research Visit to Java

Having completed a first draft script, in September 2014 In Time Pictures writer Susan Bennett went with producer Douglas Lowndes on a tour of Java to assess the strength of the project as a feature film. We consulted experts on Javanese history, viewed locations, and liaised with members of the film industry. The result was an overwhelming conviction that it was do-able, potentially exciting, moving, and an eye-opener to people worldwide about the beauty and interest of Java, and the powerful figures who made up its history in the early 19th century.

Our journey began in Jakarta (previously Batavia) where the Dutch colonial regime had their headquarters. The town hall was taken over by the British in 1811 for the brief period when, with Stamford Raffles as Governor, they were masters in the island until it was returned to the Dutch in 1815. In independent Indonesia today, it is a history museum.
Town Hall
Town Hall flag
Raffles' home was in Bogor in a mansion which is now, in enlarged form and surrounded by a botanical garden, the Residence of the Indonesian President. Raffles and his wife had splendid view from their veranda across a green valley to a volcano. Today that view is obscured by trees.
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
To find an equivalent, we searched the mountainous areas of Central Java, where Mesastila, a resort hotel near Magelan, has a very similar view.
Mesatilla View
To visualise the world of Prince Diponegoro we explored the Kraton, the walled city-centre of Yogyakarta, which was his family’s home, furnished in regal style, though he himself preferred a simpler life.
Kraton Gate
Kraton bedroom
City Wall
The Royal Palace, with its mosque and open-air throne rooms within the Kraton has changed little since Diponegoro’s day. Here his grandfather the Sultan carried out his daily business, as well as appearing on state occasions, just as Sultan Hamenkubuwono X does now.
Royal Palace Gate
Open Air Throne Room
Yogyakarta has long been the cultural centre of Java, and Diponegoro will have seen shadow puppet shows much like those performed today with gamelan and vocal accompaniment. They enact the stories of the Hindu epic the Ramayana, whose hero Arjuna was his inspiration.
Gamelan Singers
Puppet Show
We wanted to trace the complex religious heritage which Raffles noted in his history of Java, first visiting the magnificent Buddhist temple of Borobudur of which he initiated the excavation. A circular upward path leads the pilgrim through legends of the Buddha’s time, to the pinnacle of pure enlightenment.

Prambanan Temple
Temple Path
Borobudur Buddha
Borobudur carving
We then went to Prambanan, a mysterious temple complex not far from Yogyakarta, dedicated to Hindu gods, and covered with bas-reliefs telling stories from the Ramayana. 
Prambanan carvings
Ramayan bas reliefs
The beach at Parangtritis had a particular significance for Diponegoro. Although a deeply religious Muslim, he also venerated the Sea Goddess Radu Kidul, who the Sultans of Yogyakarta honour once a year on this site. It was easy to imagine, standing on the cliff above this beach, what it would have been like to see the British fleet of 90 ships on the horizon.
Parangtritis seascape
Parangtritis beach
Parangtritis Ceremonial Site
Our very swift tour left out many aspects of the historical narrative which the film would aim to cover, like mosques, and colonial-era buildings.. But it planted some markers where these might be found later. It also established how much easier travel is becoming, with an airline like Garuda not only covering most towns of any size within Indonesia but also providing links to London and Amsterdam.