The south-west, with its dramatic scenery and historic landmarks and architecture is something of a magnet to the film industry and during the summer of 2014, we are once again playing host to the big names in entertainment as the BBC drama department take over the National Trust’s Montacute House in Somerset.
Company Pictures and Playground will be working on the film adaption of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall with BAFTA winning Peter Kosminsky directing. The story depicts Cromwell’s meteoric rise in the Tudor court, with Homeland Damian Lewis playing Henry VIII and Mark Rylance as Cromwell.
The House will be closed to the public from 19 May to 11 June, although some of the parkland, the shop and café should be accessible but check their website for more information.
But Montacute House is no stranger to the world of celebrities; the Crimson Room was used to film a scene from The Libertine with Johnny Depp; a member of the National Trust’s preservation team was privileged to lie under the bed to ensure no damage was done to the authentic Elizabethan piece of furniture!
I am similarly no stranger to Montacute, not only have I visited many times in the past as it has acres of wonderful parkland for children to explore and enjoy, but I have written several articles about the property, both for my own blog and also magazines.
Of course the bonus of writing commissioned pieces is you are privileged to see parts of the house not open to the public and by far the most touching and evocative private tour I enjoyed was going into Lord Curzon’s rooms, in particular, his mistress Elinor Glyn’s own room. It was small by comparison and the walls were festooned with brightly coloured birds of paradise that had been painstakingly painted by hand.
When I thought of the sheer joy she must have felt when she moved into Montacute House to be near her great love, Lord Curzon and to then be dealt the bitter blow of a lover’s deceit and dismissal when he became engaged to another, but failed to mention it, she having seen the announcement in the papers; it was as if she was still there in the room. Certainly her grief and sorrow were tangible, the bright and cheerful birds were no match for her broken heart; I could feel a rush of emotions as I stood on the very spot she may herself have stood almost 100 years ago.
So it really does hold a special place in my ‘most enjoyable local attractions to visit’ heart!
But just what is it that makes Montacute House so special? If you have visited this magnificent property, you will know it has retained all of its Tudor and Elizabethan grandeur. The only refurbishment carried out was in 1780 when a new façade was spliced onto the West frontage but other than that it is just as the Elizabethans would have left it.
Built towards the end of the 16th century for Sir Edward Phelips, its construction was almost certainly overseen by local stone mason William Arnold and it radiates the affluence and indulgence of this highly successful Elizabethan lawyer and politician. It also has links with the demise of Sir Walter Raleigh and the trial of Guy Fawkes.
Montacute is one of the best preserved examples of the highly fashionable Elizabethan architectural trend of French styled Gothic combined with Roman styled Renaissance giving it an air of imposing grandeur that cannot but have impressed the Tudor and Stuart visiting royals and dignitaries.
If you watch the six part mini-series due to be shown next year, look out for scenes in the 172 foot (52 metre) ‘Long Gallery’; the only surviving example left in the country that stretches the entire length of the House; or the Elizabethan optical illusion in the form of a portrait of Henry (brother to King Charles II) whose right foot is pointing towards you no matter where you stand!
If they plan to take any outside shots, I wonder how they will disguise the bulbous Irish Yew hedge that legend says was pushed out of shape following exceptionally heavy snowfall in 1947! Any scenes of the Orangery will also be tainted by the 21st century as yet another heavy snowfall, this time in 2010, resulted in the glass roof collapsing and it has only recently been repaired!
I am also hoping to see the Pudding Houses that are at each corner of the garden where guests would have been invited to reconvene after the main course to enjoy such delights as orange marmalade, figs, honeycomb or dates.
Of course you don’t have to wait for the BBC drama to come to your screens, why not come along and see Montacute House in the flesh?