Lights… Camera… Action! Heritage? Forget Disneyland and Universal Studios, some of Hollywood’s best backlot tours can be done much closer to home and, thanks to Heritage Open Days, for free!
Iconic buildings and locations across England have often been used as settings and backdrops for films, either as a means to recreate a way of life from the past or as an atmospheric location for a particular genre. Likewise, contemporary buildings featured in cinematic productions have received their own cult status as a result of appearing on film and have become heritage attractions in their own right.
Heritage Open Days offers the perfect opportunity to explore some of these unique film sets where you can recreate your very own movie magic moments with family and friends. To help you decide, below are my Top Five Cinematic Locations you can visit during Heritage Open Days this year:
5. Ashridge Estate, Berkhamstead
Film: Les Misérables (2012)
19th-century France was recreated in Hertfordshire for the 2012 big-screen adaptation of hit musical Les Misérables, with the Ashridge Estate standing in for countryside on the outskirts of Paris in midwinter. Starring Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, the film follows the plight of Valjean, an ex-convict on the run after breaking his parole and features the huge expanse of woodland at Ashridge.
The Ashridge Estate will be open during Heritage Open Days on Saturday 14 September from midday until 4.15pm. More information can be found here.
4. Dyrham Park, Dryham
Film: The Remains of the Day (1993)
A baroque mansion in an ancient deer park in South Gloucestershire, Dyrham Park was used as a filming location for the Merchant Ivory film The Remains of the Day, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Focusing on the relationship between a butler and a housekeeper, the film is set against the backdrop of Anglo-German relations prior to the Second World War. The Remains of the Day was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Anthony Hopkins) and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Thompson).
Dyrham Park also features in the 2008 film Australia, the 1999 BBC mini-series Wives and Daughters and more recently in Doctor Who, with scenes filmed at Dyrham Park for the “Night Terrors” episode of series six.
Dyrham Park will be open during Heritage Open Days on Saturday 14 September 10am-5pm. More information can be found here.
3. Cheltenham College, Cheltenham
Film: If… (1968)
The majority of the school scenes in the satirical British film If… were filmed at Cheltenham College. Interestingly, the film’s director, Lindsay Anderson, was a former pupil and Senior Prefect at the independent school. However, an agreement between the school's then Headmaster, David Ashcroft, and Anderson, prevented the filmmakers from crediting the school.
Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, If… depicts rebellious students at an English private school, who plan a violent revolt against the powers that be. Surreal and graphic in equal measures, If… was highly controversial at the time but has since gone on to be recognised as one of the greatest British films of all time.
Cheltenham College is a stunning Victorian building in its own right and during Heritage Open Days it will be open on Saturday 14 September with tours of its magnificent gothic chapel from 9am until midday and the Thirlestaine Long Gallery will then open 2-4pm. More information can be found here.
2. Lavenham Guildhall, Lavenham
Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)
Muggles will want to flock to Lavenham Guildhall, which features as Harry Potter’s parents' house in the seventh film of the series based on the books by J. K. Rowling. In fact, parts of the village of Lavenham itself – once one of the wealthiest places in the country, with its famous blue cloth exported across the world – were transformed by the filmmakers in to the fictional West Country village of Godric’s Hollow, home to a magical community. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is currently the eighth-highest grossing film of all-time worldwide.
Lavenham remains a well-preserved medieval village, with the Guildhall of Corpus Christi one of the finest timber-framed buildings in the country. For Heritage Open Days, Lavenham Guildhall will be open on Saturday 14 September 11am-5pm, with tours on the hour. More information can be found here.
1. Carnforth Station, Carnforth
Film: Brief Encounter (1945)
Based on Noël Coward’s 1936 one-act play Still Life, Brief Encounter showcases British filmmaking at its best, sharing the Palme d'Or at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. Actress Celia Johnson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in the 1947 awards and in 1999, Brief Encounter came second in a British Film Institute poll of the top 100 British films. The film depicts a relationship that flourishes between two married people, with key scenes set in a railway station, filmed at Carnforth railway station in Lancashire.
Carnforth railway station was opened in 1846 by the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway (L&CR) and is still open under its original function today, as well as also offering an award-winning Heritage Centre and The Refreshment Room, which opened in 2003. The Heritage Centre will be open 10am-4pm everyday during Heritage Open Days (Thursday 12 – Sunday 15 September) showcasing permanent and guest exhibitions, as well as the film in question being shown on the big screen throughout the day. More information can be found here.
There are many more Heritage Open Days locations that have featured on the silver screen. What's your favourite historic film location in our programme?