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Historic Houses: The True Stars of Period Dramas

I found the recent World Monuments Fund's webinar, ’Historic Houses: The True Stars of Period Dramas' fascinating - both as someone how loves watching period dramas set at stately

homes and as a historical novelist whose books mostly centre around historic houses.


My new book, The Keeper of Songs, out this summer, is set at Chatsworth, so it was particularly wonderful to listen to Sally Ambrose, Head of Marketing and Visitor Experience at Chatsworth House, talk about how Chatsworth has been used as a set for everything from ‘The Duchess,’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’, to ‘Peaky Blinders’ and a Bollywood drama. She was joined by actress Nell Hudson (Victoria, Outlander), who has worked at Wentworth Woodhouse and Harewood House, director Julie Anne Robinson (Bridgerton) and World Monuments Fund Britain Executive Director John Darlington.

The virtual event looked at how historic houses are turned into fictitious screen locations; how do the owners of these houses choose which productions are granted access and how production designers and art directors design sets that transport viewers to different eras and locations; and how do actors and directors do their job while respecting their surroundings as well as how once historic houses have been popularised though their TV and filmic roles, conservation challenges are balanced with benefits of increased visitor numbers.

Some comments that caught my interest:


*The team at Chatsworth love filming because ‘it brings the house and garden to life in a magical way.’ Staff sometimes take part as extras.

* When a love scene in ‘Peaky Blinders’ was filmed in the Scots Bedroom, one of the room monitors had to sit in with the actors.

* After ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was shot at Chatsworth it created lots of ‘film tourism’ with visitors coming dressed as characters.

* In China, where there’s a huge following for ‘Pride & Prejudice’, the word Chatsworth actually translates as ‘Mr Darcy’s House;’

* When Kiera Knightley was playing the role of Duchess Georgiana at Chatsworth, she was shown Georgiana’s letters in the archives. So many people wanted a photo of her in costume that Chatsworth had spotters on the roof to prevent journalists snooping.

* Why do we filmmakers want to film in historic houses? You could never build authentic houses in CGI and the atmosphere, helps with getting into character and transitioning into the time period.

* Why are period dramas so popular? Nell Hudson says it’s ‘escapism. A sumptuous world to lose yourself in and a way to connect with history.’

* Why was ‘Bridgerton’ such a massive success? ‘Relatability. Everyone can identify with one of the characters. Daphne is a porcelain beauty but she’s also modern, relatable and down to earth.

*Grosvenor Square in ‘Bridgerton’ was mostly shot in the Royal Crescent in Bath.

*Buckingham Palace in ‘The Crown’ was actually Wilton House.

*Doune Castle in Outlander was also the set of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’



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