Hollywood Sells Heritage: England's Great Historic Houses Are Starting to Flaunt Their Use in the Production of Motion Pictures. Is This Changing the Way the Public Views Them? Is This Undermining Heritage? or Is It a Deliberate Strategy to Win New Devotees and Enlarge a Sense of Public History?

By Beaton, Belinda | Queen's Quarterly, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Hollywood Sells Heritage: England's Great Historic Houses Are Starting to Flaunt Their Use in the Production of Motion Pictures. Is This Changing the Way the Public Views Them? Is This Undermining Heritage? or Is It a Deliberate Strategy to Win New Devotees and Enlarge a Sense of Public History?


Beaton, Belinda, Queen's Quarterly


AMONG Britain's host of stately houses that evoke national pride, Chatsworth remains pre-eminent. The magnificent seat of the Duke of Devonshire was built in the seventeenth century in a more restrained English version of the flamboyant baroque style that was then in vogue in Europe. Subsequent descendants spared no expense in cultivating its grounds and enhancing its buildings. Four centuries of collecting are reflected in virtuoso works that have been amassed in its sculpture court. Famous artists, including Van Dyke, Reynolds, and Lawrence, immortalized family members in portraits that look down with patrician equanimity. Some of the most accomplished landscape architects in Europe created diverting rockeries and cascades in its gardens. The house has always drawn tourists, and it is believed that Jane Austen used it as the model for Darcy's family house in Pride and Prejudice. Yet since the end of the Second World War, like other historic properties, it has needed the revenue generated from commercial tourism, and its place as a family residence has been relegated to a secondary role. The prospect of viewing its treasures continues to attract millions, but recently there has been a change in what motivates many to visit.

IN 1998, Amanda Foreman published a biography of Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806). The wife of the fifth duke was prominent in London's beau monde, campaigning for the Whigs, gambling away a fortune, and consoling herself with several lovers. The subject had great popular appeal, and to ensure its notoriety, the Oxford-educated Foreman posed naked with piles of books about her in advertising shots (the rationale being that this was in keeping with something Georgiana might have done had she lived today). Publicity stunts aside, the book was a critical and commercial success that spawned a cinematic adaptation. Last year's marketing for The Duchess made much of the fact that Georgiana was an ancestor of the late Princess of Wales and that, as her husband took her best friend as his mistress, "there were three people in this marriage." It starred Keira Knightley as the duchess and Ralph Fiennes as the cold duke. Chatsworth is now capitalizing on the fact with a special exhibit devoted to Georgiana that is as much about the film as the actual woman. Some of its costumes are displayed alongside genuine eighteenth-century artefacts. Visitors to a pub on the estate are told with great delight that "Keira was here" not only when The Duchess was filmed, but also when Chatsworth was used in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Three miles from Chatsworth sits Haddon Hall, a fortified manor house that was built between 1180 and 1556. For the greater part of the nineteenth century, its owners left it unoccupied, preferring the comparative comfort of the family seat, Belvoir Castle. While the medieval kitchens sit unused and neglected, and the flagstones in the courtyards are in disrepair, its interiors still have some remarkable features. Particularly noteworthy is its long gallery whose windows are comprised of small diamond-shaped glass panes set in mullions that swerve, creating a bombe effect. For the last two years, when tourists reach the end of this room, they have been confronted with a television that continually plays the 2006 BBC television adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. It seems the gallery and the grounds were used as the setting for Thornfield, the Rochester estate. Visitors are able to watch a scene that was shot in the very room they are standing in and see another in which the characters walk down the hill that they have just ascended to reach the house. The manor's use for Jane Eyre is only one of its enhanced attractions. A billboard outside its gates proclaims that Haddon was the Boleyn family home in The Other Boleyn Girl, last year's bodice-ripping cinematic treatment of Henry VIII's second marriage.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Hever Castle, where the Boleyns actually lived, is in Kent, south of London. …

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Hollywood Sells Heritage: England's Great Historic Houses Are Starting to Flaunt Their Use in the Production of Motion Pictures. Is This Changing the Way the Public Views Them? Is This Undermining Heritage? or Is It a Deliberate Strategy to Win New Devotees and Enlarge a Sense of Public History?
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