Historic Houses on the Screen

Why our places matter

The UK’s historic houses, castles and gardens are known around the world, drawing tourists to our shores to enjoy their history and beauty. But, often, visitors know Historic Houses places better by their stage names. Whether it’s Castle Howard in its starring role as Brideshead in the 1981 adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, Highclere Castle as the eponymous Downton Abbey, or Wilton House as a stand-in for Buckingham Palace in The Crown, our members have an impressive filmography that only adds to their popularity, inspiring new audiences to visit the UK’s historic buildings and gardens.  

Nicknamed ‘the English Versailles,’ Boughton House was perhaps the obvious choice for Ridley Scott’s 2023 epic Napoleon. Following weeks of careful preparation, hundreds of cast and crew, including Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby, staged their own conquest of the Northamptonshire manor house. Filming took place over three days and nights in March 2022, with Boughton being used as the set for Napoleon’s chateau and apartments on Rue de Mail, and as military barracks. As Boughton House was designed to showcase French style to William III, the house and contents provided an authentic look. As the film’s production designer, Arthur Max, explained, Boughton ‘looks just like a French chateau in a beautiful estate, with hundreds of acres, sheep and horses grazing and beautiful old oak trees everywhere.’  

If Boughton was the obvious choice for Napoleon, then it’s fair to say that there was no other choice but Farleys House for Lee.  Telling the story of Elizabeth ‘Lee’ Miller, a fashion model turned war correspondent who lived at Farleys, Lee stars Kate Winslet in the title role and is adapted from Antony Penrose’s book The Lives of Lee Miller. The film will be released theatrically later in 2024.  

In 2023’s most talked about film, Drayton House stood in for the titular Saltburn. Although Drayton is closed to the public, other filming locations, such as Deene Park, have welcomed fans of the film to come and see the settings for themselves.  

Penshurst Place has featured in many productions over the years from The Other Boleyn Girl to Merlin. Most recently, the 14th Century manor house hosted filming for Disney +’s Renegade Nell. Stars of the show, supporting cast, crew and even live snakes filmed for three days in November 2022, using the Crypt, the Panelled Room and the gardens to bring 18th Century England to life. Renegade Nell is, of course, not the first period adventure to shoot at Penshurst. The Princess Bride’s famous fight scene was filmed at Penshurst, inspiring fans to come to visit the cult film’s setting, and Susan Calman even recreated the scene last year in Susan Calman’s Grand Days Out. 

Many people are keen to visit the places where their favourite show or film was shot. In fact, in 2021, Screen UK found that 66% of people who had previously visited the UK had been influenced to visit by seeing British places in film or TV. Some houses have recognised this demand and staged whole exhibitions around their filmographies. Arley Hall recently ran an exhibition on Peaky Blinders, which used the Hall as Tommy Shelby’s home from season 3 onwards: the Hall and Gallery were dressed as they were for filming and two original costumes were exhibited. Visitors were invited to take photographs and dress up, and Arley Hall also provided a selection of coats and hats to help visitors fully immerse themselves. For fans of Outlander, Hopetoun House has produced a map for visitors to discover the exact parts of the estate where scenes from the hit TV series were filmed.  Knebworth House & Gardens has such a long and illustrious history of filming, from The Crown and The King’s Speech to Paddington 2 and Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga, that it now has a permanent exhibition dedicated to its filmography. 

Knebworth House

Filming and screen tourism doesn’t just benefit the houses themselves but also the communities around them. Across the country, from Inveraray Castle, used in A Very British Scandal, to Ditchley Park, which features in Netflixs The Diplomat, filming sees hundreds of cast and crew descending on the local area and staying in local hotels and B&Bs, boosting the local economy during filming. Hospitality businesses gain further from higher visitor numbers following the project’s release.  This helps to redistribute tourists away from London to discover other parts of the UK as filming increasingly moves out of the capital.

Despite being largely set in London, Netflix’s smash-hit series Bridgerton is a good example of this, filming across England from Castle Howard in Yorkshire to Syon House in Middlesex.