The Duchess | 2008
“There were three people in her marriage” ran the shameless tagline of this biopic of the Duchess of Devonshire – born Lady Georgiana Spencer – and while this is technically true, it’s also making clear parallels with the story of great-great-grandniece, Diana, Princess of Wales.
Although the real Althorp can be seen on-screen in Another Country, the 1984 film which launched the careers of Rupert Everett and Colin Firth, the Spencer estate seen in this film is represented by Kedleston Hall, near Quarndon, Derbyshire. You might remember the neo-classical house, designed by Robert Adam in the 1760s, and now a National Trust property, from Ken Russell’s 1969 DH Lawrence adaptation, Women In Love.
The young Georgiana (Keira Knightley) is first seen innocently flirting with Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), at the house’s South Front, while in Kedleston’s Library, her mother, Lady Spencer (Charlotte Rampling), is enthusiastically marketing her charms to the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes), whose sole concern is to produce a male heir.
The estate of the Dukes of Devonshire was, and still is, Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, and this is where the candle-lit wedding was filmed. Although home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, it’s nevertheless open to the public, and is one England’s most popular country houses – it can get pretty crowded at times. Keira Knightley had previously filmed at Chatsworth when it stood in for ‘Pemberley’ in Joe Wright’s 2005 film of Pride And Prejudice. The house, reduced to gloomy shabbiness with digital effects, can also be seen in the 2010 version of The Wolfman, with Benicio del Toro.
The bustling streets of 18th century London, where the carriage of the newly-married Duke and Duchess is greeted by cheering crowds, are the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London SE10 (rail: Greenwich).
An endlessly adaptable location, the College exterior also provided London streets for The Young Victoria; Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law; the opening sequence of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; WWII drama Charlotte Gray and horror sequel The Mummy Returns, as well as the university campus in Starter for Ten and even appeared as the ‘Pentagon’ in1992’s Shining Through, with Michael Douglas.
In The Duchess, it’s also where Georgiana later drums up a crowd to support Charles Grey in his bid to become a reforming MP.
The Duke’s London home, Devonshire House, stood on Piccadilly, between Stratton Street and Berkeley Street, but was demolished in 1924 after having stood empty for several years as the landed gentry retreated from their city palaces.
There are now offices and shops on the site, though it’s still called Devonshire House. If you use Green Park tube station on the Piccadilly Line, you’re passing through the Duke’s old wine cellar. The estate’s wrought iron gates were moved across the road, where they still serve as an entrance to Green Park.
For the film, a familiar location provides the intimidatingly grand exterior of ‘Devonshire House’. It’s Somerset House in the Strand, with its Fountain Court, which you may recognise as ‘St Petersburg’ in GoldenEye, among its many other screen appearances.
The interior of ‘Devonshire House’ is knitted together from a very disparate series of houses – including three separate Marble Halls.
The vast entrance hall is the Marble Hall of Holkham Hall, Norfolk (though it’s mainly constructed of Derbyshire alabaster). The classical design of the house was inspired by the architecture of Rome: the colonnade copied from the Temple of Fortuna Virilis, while the 50-feet-high ceiling was modelled on the Pantheon.
Although the grandeur of ‘Devonshire House’ is supposed to contrast with the more modest ‘Althorp’, Kedleston supplied interiors for both. Its Marble Hall was transformed into the lavishly pillared dining room in which the Devonshires entertain the speechifying Charles Fox (Simon McBurney) and his Whigs.
Number three, the dazzlingly white Marble Hall of Clandon Hall, West Clandon, near Guildford, Surrey, became ‘Devonshire House’s’ breakfast room, where the Duke and Duchess – and later Lady Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell) – endure a series of coldly fraught encounters. Built in the 1730s by the Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni for the second Lord Onslow, Clandon, owned by the National Trust, was gutted in a disastrous fire in 2015. There are ambitious plans to restore the house, but it's going to be a sizeable project. The Marble Hall’s previous screen appearance was as the site of the ball in Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head.
Having failed to provide the Duke with a son, as promised, Georgiana is whisked off to take the health-giving waters of West Country spa town, Bath.
The city is naturally introduced with a view of its most famous feature, Royal Crescent, the spectacular arc of 30 Regency townhouses designed by John Wood in the 1770s. Contrary to a persistent myth, this is not the crescent used for the Who Will Buy? number in the 1969 film of Oliver! (that was a set built on the backlot at Shepperton Studios). It does, however, feature as a London street in Bryan Forbes’ star-studded 1966 period comedy The Wrong Box.
It’s in the Tea Room of Bath Assembly Rooms, Bennett Street, that the elaborately coiffed Duchess is presented to the adoring crowd as “the empress of fashion”, and first meets Lady Bess, who immediately becomes her friend and confidante.
The dining room of the rented house in which the Devonshires are staying, where Georgiana gets the Duke to invite Bess to live with them temporarily, is Basildon Park, Lower Basildon, Reading, Berkshire, another National Trust property. And another Pride And Prejudice location, too (it appeared as ‘Netherfields’). It’s also been seen in the 2009 film of Dorian Gray, as well as in Sofia Coppola’s quirky Marie Antoinette, with Kirsten Dunst.
The ‘Theatre Royal, Drury Lane’, where the Devonshires watch a production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s School For Scandal in the presence of the author himself, and Georgiana meets an old friend, is the Theatre Royal Bristol, King Street, Bristol. The oldest continually-operating theatre in England, dating from the 1760s, it’s now home to the Bristol Old Vic company.
Georgiana has a heart-to-heart – and finally a full-on snog – with Charles Grey alongside the lake at West Wycombe House, West Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire. The house and its grounds appear frequently on screen, in Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers (as a ‘Russian’ estate), in the opening scenes of 1986 Jim Henson fantasy Labyrinth, in Clint Eastwood’s White Hunter, Black Heart (as an ‘Irish’ estate), and Oliver Parker’s The Importance of Being Earnest (as – finally – an English estate).
West Wycombe was home to the Dashwood family, and Sir Francis Dashwood who in the 18th Century established the notorious Hellfire Club – debauched fun for the upper classes – though not nearly as depraved as its lurid reputation.
After attempting to make a deal with her philandering husband, giving them both freedom to dally on the side, Georgiana is brutally raped by him. The ball, where she drunkenly stumbles and sets fire to her elaborate wig, is back in the Marble Hall of Kedleston.
Finally having given birth to a son, Georgiana stays at the Devonshires’ country seat of Chatsworth House, while the Duke remains in London. It’s here she’s visited by Prime Minister-to-be Grey and begins a secret affair.
Lady Melbourne’s ball, at which Georgiana is welcomed back into society after having given up the daughter she bore to Grey, is held in the elegant Robert Adam-designed Entrance Hall of Osterley Park House, Jersey Road, Isleworth. An Elizabethan mansion transformed by Robert Adam between 1760 and 1780, it’s yet another National Trust property.
Osterley has a long history on film. Back in 1960 it was the ‘Earl of Rhyall’s’ stately home in Stanley Donen’s The Grass Is Greener, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. In 1965 it became the ancestral pile of Lord Carfax (John Fraser) in James Hill’s Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper shocker A Study in Terror. The house was seemingly moved to ‘Wimpole Street’ for Patricia Rozema’s 1999 Jane Austen adaptation, Mansfield Park, while the estate held the school concert, where Krishi is supposed to sing Do Re Mi, in Karan Johar’s 2001 Hindi smash Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham....
Since then, Osterley supplied the bustling kitchen in the ‘Wimbledon’ home of abolitionist William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) in Amazing Grace; and both an art gallery and a tearoom for biopic Miss Potter, with Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. It’s a popular place to find Queen Victoria – Osterley not only stands in for the interior of ‘Buckingham Palace’ in Mrs Brown, with Judi Dench, but also in Young Victoria, with Emily Blunt.