In a bid to diversify incomes and ensure the survival of Britain’s great stately homes, many have turned to Hollywood, allowing big wig producers to pitch up in their parlours and film scenes for television series and blockbuster movies, with many offering up their country homes for rent for countless decades now.
Yet none perhaps have been so popular with location scouts as Hatfield House, the Marquess of Salisbury’s 223-room Jacobean pile in Hertfordshire, which has had a starring role in a remarkable 70 feature films since the 1960s, according to its entry on IMDb (the family live in one wing of the house, with the rest of it used as a film set and for visitors touring the property). Perhaps it is its proximity to London, or maybe it is its sheer size and glamour, but there’s no denying, it’s top trumps when it comes to a stately film set.
2020 in particular has seen it omnipresent on the small screen, with the crews at Netflix barely vacating the property. First it appeared in Enola Holmes, starring Millie Bobbie Brown as Sherlock Holmes’ teenage sister; then it was front and centre in the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, in which it starred as Manderley, a house so forbidding and impressive, it is almost a character itself. Meanwhile Hulu filmed its series on Russia’s most famous monarch, The Great (named for Catherine the Great), here, with Elle Fanning in the starring role.
Indeed, it has long been a favourite when searching for a period drama backdrop. It was also used in early seasons of The Crown as the home of Queen Mary, the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II, as well as in 1992’s Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton as Virginia Woolf’s hero who traverses the ages and changes genders in the process, plus Shakespeare in Love, the 1998 romp that earned Gwyneth Paltrow an Oscar.
In 2018, it lit up the screen in Oscar-winning period drama The Favourite, which saw it used as Queen Anne’s court, with the King James Drawing Room stripped of its luxurious decor in order to be filled with dripping wax candles and live rabbits. The Library was used to stand in for Lady Marlborough’s home, while the Marble Hall is used for the dance scenes.
It’s not all period dramas though. Director Tim Burton has also been particularly faithful to the property, using it for 1989’s Batman, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sleepy Hollow, while other modern-set films to have used it include Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, V for Vendetta and even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (or does that count as a period drama?)
Also on the grounds of the property is ‘the Old Palace’, once a home of King Henry VIII, and the place where his children, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Edward, grew up. Famously, Elizabeth was here when she learnt she was to become Queen, sitting beneath an oak tree now named the Elizabeth Oak.