The house is a character in itself, and to this end, it was important to find the best possible location in which to shoot. Therefore, three main houses in addition to Ealing Studios were used, in order to depict various aspects of Green Knowe.
The main house where filming took place was Athelhampton House in Dorset. All the exteriors of Green Knowe are shot there, in addition to the Library and the Great Hall.
The house was built in the late fifteenth century by Sir William Martyn and it remained in his family for four generations, at which time it was passed on to four daughters, none of whom lived at the house. The four shares of the house were finally re-united in 1848, and in 1891 the house was purchased by Alfred Cart de Lafontaine who restored the house back to its former beauty. The house is now owned and run by the Cooke family, in particular Patrick and his wife Andrea, who have opened the beautiful house and extensive gardens to the public.
Julian Fellowes believes that the reason the house is so perfect, especially for this story, is because it was not touched for several hundred years while it remained as four shares. He explains: “If it had remained a gentleman’s house at the centre of the estate for a single family it would have been modernized in every period, and because the demands of what a drawing room or dining room should be, it would have been changed to meet the differing requirements of each generation. Obviously, with some houses that’s very charming, and it’s how they evolve. But in this instance it wasn’t touched until the end of the nineteenth century so here is this incredibly romantic fifteenth century house in its completely original form. These are the rooms that the subjects of the Plantagenet kings walked in. That in itself is extraordinary.” He continues: “I’m sure it has its own ghosts. It’s wonderfully creepy, but in a good way, with slightly cramped passages and a sense of dark, ancient nooks and crannies where strange things might take place.”
Luciana Arrighi adds: “I wanted it to feel, visually, that there’s always something just round the corner – I felt that whilst shooting at Athelhampton in any case. Athelhampton is wonderful. It’s perfect for us, because not only is it a wonderful Elizabethan house, but it looks as if it lacks one wing and so we’ve put the Georgian wing on it as in the story. Inside, it’s a wonderful house, too and we could dress it as we wished.”
Douglas Booth, who plays Sefton, found inspiration through the building: “Athelhampton is really beautiful and going into each room you can really get into your character because you can feel how people lived there. There’s so much history in the house and it makes it very interesting.”
However, although it was perfect as the ‘hero’ house for the film, it was necessary to find various other locations, as Liz Trubridge explains: “Athelhampton was perfect, but inevitably, there are some rooms and some corridors which were small and narrow, and due to some of the complexities of technical filming, we had to find a composite house, partly at Ockwells Manor in Maidenhead and also at Nonsuch Mansion in Cheam.”
Built in the mid fifteenth century, Ockwells Manor served as numerous passages, the 1944 dining room and Tolly’s bedroom in the film. It is privately owned.
Julian Fellowes explains the history of Nonsuch Manor in Cheam: “Henry VIII built the enormous Nonsuch Palace and it gradually fell into disrepair until finally Charles II gave it to one of his mistresses who sold it to builders for materials. The whole palace has therefore almost vanished. But quite nearby, still within the grounds, and built with some of the stone from the original Tudor palace, is this Regency house. It was actually built by a merchant. So there is this quite romantic but now absolutely desolate house, where once the rich laughed away the summer nights, which is now empty and falling to pieces. What we were able to do, however, was to photograph an exterior section to use as the wing that was added to Athelhampton.” In addition, the Service Wing of the Mansion has been restored and opened to the public, so all the kitchen sequences were shot there as well as the Regency dining room.
Finally, due to the complexities of trying to film people crawling through chimneys, there were a number of chimney sets built at Ealing Studios.
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