Emma | 2020
It hardly seems like 24 years since the release of the last big-screen version of Jane Austen’s Emma, with Gwyneth Paltrow, or 25 since its surprisingly successful LA update, Amy Heckerling’s sparkling Clueless, with Alicia Silverstone.
Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 adaptation remains firmly in 18th century England.
‘Hartfield’, the home of Mr Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) and his capricious, compulsively matchmaking daughter Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) is Firle Place, Firle, about five miles southeast of Lewes in East Sussex.
Originally a 15th century manor house built for Sir John Gage, Firle was substantially revamped in the 18th century, and its pastel tones fit the period of the film perfectly. Firle Place is usually open to visitors in the summer months, (June to September).
At the opening of the film, Emma’s governess and friend, Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan) is leaving to marry Mr Weston (Rupert Graves). His house, ‘Randalls’, is Chavenage House, northwest of Tetbury in Gloucestershire.
TV viewers may recognize it as ‘Trenwith’ in the 2015 version of Poldark.
‘Highbury’ parish church in which the Westons and, later, another couple, are married by the ever-so-slightly ridiculous Mr Elton (Josh O'Connor) is All Saints Church, St Paul’s Walden, near Whitwell, south of Hitchin in Hertfordshire.
The church does house that striking green Georgian screen which separates the chancel form the nave but not pastel green pews. Don’t worry, traditional wooden pews weren’t vandalised for the production – the church normally uses chairs and those seats are film props.
The village of St Paul’s Walden has another claim to fame, as home of the Bowes-Lyon family. It was Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon who married the future King George VI and, after his death, went on to become the Queen Mother. She was born and brought up in the village and christened at All Saints in 1900.
On to ‘Donwell Abbey’, the imposing home where Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn) lives in contented isolation (save for the servants, naturally). This is Wilton House, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years.
Its severe, four-square exterior belies a magnificent interior including the Double Cube Room (named for its geometric proportions) which was designed by Inigo Jones, and which contains that enormous painting you can see of the Pembroke family by Anthony van Dyck.
Not surprisingly, Wilton is something of a screen favourite, having appeared in Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers, The Madness of King George, The Young Victoria and The Bounty as well as two other Jane Austen adaptations, 1995’s Sense And Sensibility and 2005’s Pride and Prejudice.
Mrs Goddard’s school, attended by ‘natural child’ Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) and the gaggle of red-cloaked schoolchildren, is Kingston Bagpuize House, near Abingdon, Oxfordshire. The unusual name is the Anglicisation of the de Bachepuis family who lived there in the 11th and 12 centuries.
The present house, though, dates from the 18th century. It remains a private home, but is open to visitors and can also be hired as a wedding venue. Fans of TV’s Downton Abbey will probably recognise it as Lord Merton’s house.
The village of ‘Highbury’ itself is the wonderfully named Lower Slaughter, about four miles southwest of Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire (why has nobody set a horror movie here?).
The much-patronised haberdashery store where characters are constantly bumping into each other is the Village Hall, Becky Hill facing the River Eye and nearby on Malthouse Lane you’ll recognise the building transformed into the exterior of the ‘Crown Inn’, which Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) insists is the ideal place for balls.
Lower Slaughter, incidentally, was the village used in Bernard Miles' gentle 1944 drama Tawny Pipit.
Back to the ‘Crown’, the interior of which – where Mr Knightley generously invites the cruelly ignored Harriet to dance – is the Long Hall at Ramster Hall, a country house just outside the village of Chiddingfold, south of Guildford in Surrey.
Built in 1604 as a barn, that glorious beamed ceiling made the hall ideal for conversion into an events space / wedding venue.
Wrotham Park is another screen regular, perhaps most famous from Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, but seen also as the training facility in Kingsman: The Secret Service, as ‘Buckingham Palace’ in King Ralph, with John Goodman succeeding to the British throne, as Jane’s childhood home in the 2011 version of Jane Eyre, as well as appearing in in Kenneth Branagh’s 1992 Britpack drama Peter’s Friends and Ken Russell’s Gothic.
It’s a private home, not open to the public and not visible from the road, though it's available for parties and corporate events. If you can't afford to rent Wrotham Park, you can have a peek inside if you’re lucky enough to get one of the limited number of tickets to visit the house during Open House London weekend, usually held in September.
Finally, the picnic on ‘Box Hill’, where Emma’s indifference to others ends in tears and she’s finally jolted into acknowledging the effect she has on other people’s lives.
The real Box Hill is just east of Dorking in Surrey, but the picnic was filmed atop Leith Hill, a few miles to the south, and the second highest point in southeast England.