Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020

How to Visit the Stunning English Locations Featured in 'Emma.'

When writing Emma, Jane Austen wanted to create “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” It may not have been successful, though, as Emma became one of Austen’s most successful books, spawning a flurry of remakes. 

a group of people sitting at a park: (L to R) Bill Nighy as "Mr. Woodhouse", Miranda Hart as "Miss Bates" and Myra McFadyen as "Mrs. Bates" in director Autumn de Wilde's EMMA, a Focus Features release.

In the latest adaptation of the novel, film director Autumn de Wilde created a vivid and colorful version of the story that simultaneously feels current and true to its history. A large part of that truth relied on filming locations that were perfectly preserved from the time Austen published her novel in 1815. 

In order to find locations perfect for Emma., de Wilde and her crew traveled around the south of England for months, searching for houses and villages that suit each of the characters and their tales.

“I believe that locations are a very important character,” de Wilde told Travel + Leisure. “They are like another actor in the film. And so, in a way, finding these places that weren’t quite right, I learned so much about the possibilities. It’s sort of like looking for the right man.” 

The location-scouting process was uniquely difficult in that de Wilde was looking for complete locations. Travelers who want to retrace the lives of their favorite characters won’t have to run from house to house, finding a bedroom in one and then dashing to another home to look at the grand ballroom. “I’m a nerd, so I did think about how fun it would be, if people did like the movie, for them to be able and go and find these places,” de Wilde said. “I liked the idea that if they went to see Mr. Knightley’s house, it’s all there.”

Firle Place

a large green field with trees in the background: Getty Images

The majestic Firle Place became Hartfield, home of Emma and her father, Mr. Woodhouse. The house in Sussex South Downs is owned by Lord and Lady Gage, who were enthusiastic about the film. “They really let us transform Firle into Hartfield,” de Wilde said. “Lord Gage is a painter, and I think he was really excited by the idea of so much color being brought into the house. In a way, we had a creative partnership with the owners.” 

Several scenes that would have taken place on the grounds of Hartfield were also filmed at Firle. The crew built a greenhouse on the grounds for the film, but a horse chestnut tree — the backdrop for the movie’s romantic ending — was already there and in full bloom at the time of filming. 

Wilton House

a large green field with trees in the background: David Goddard/Getty Images

Wilton House stands in for Donwell Abbey, the home of Mr. Knightley. In Austen’s tale, Knightley is the richest man and has the biggest house. However, he never feels quite at home at his estate. “I think there’s a grace and beauty to Wilton that wasn’t imposing, but it was overwhelming,” de Wilde explained. “It’s really incredible to be in there. It doesn’t feel homey. It’s like living in a museum.”

The rooms at Wilton are nothing if not grand. The apartments date back to the 1640s, and on their walls hang an impressive art collection: pieces by Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and Pieter Brueghel the Younger, among others. Viewers may also recognize some of the rooms from Barry Lyndon.

The grounds of the house feature in the film as well. All scenes that show Mr. Knightley or Emma on the grounds of Donwell Abbey were filmed outside Wilton. 

Lower Slaughter

a stone castle next to a body of water with Cotswolds in the background: Getty Images

This picturesque village in the Cotswolds stood in for the fictional village of Highbury. While there are many charming towns in the Cotswolds, what drew de Wilde to Lower Slaughter was its creek running through. “It created a divide in the town, and an obstacle for Mr. Knightley when he was running after Emma’s carriage,” she explained. “It created a little bit more of a feeling like you were being observed. You felt like the town was small and it was all in that one area.”  

Leith Hill

a castle surrounded by a body of water: Getty Images/Robert Harding World Imagery

One of the film’s most famous scenes is the picnic on Box Hill. Although Box Hill is a real place in Surrey, the view from the hill has become too modernized to feature in a period drama. As a replacement, location scouts found Leith Hill, one of the highest points in southeast England. Views of the surrounding hills and heathland are the perfect backdrop for a picnic — almost as memorable as Emma’s speech there. 

Ramster Hall

a car parked in front of a house: Tony Watson / Alamy Stock Photo

It wouldn’t be a Jane Austen story without a memorable ball scene. Ramster Hall hosted the film’s ball scenes in its original 17th-century hall, which was initially built as a barn. The room manages to feel grand, intimate, and historic all at the same time. 

St. Paul’s Walden

an old stone building: RDImages/Epics/Getty Images

In the time of Emma., church wasn’t just a religious experience, but a social one, too. St. Paul’s Walden in the town of Hitchin was an especially precious find for the film, as it was almost perfectly preserved in the Georgian style. “I started hating the Victorians because I couldn’t find a church that hadn’t been Victorianized,” de Wilde joked. All the film’s church scenes take place here, with only the pews changed to make it more ‘of the time.’” 

Kingston Bagpuize

a large brick building with grass and trees: James King-Holmes / Alamy Stock Photo

This impressive 16th-century house was used as Mrs. Goddard’s school, where Harriet Smith is in attendance. Kingston Bagpuize’s entrance hall, drawing room, and pink bedroom were used to portray where Harriet lives and studies. The house has an impressive film pedigree, also having been used in Downton Abbey as the home of Lord Merton. 

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