Released in the UK on 9th June 2017 ‘My Cousin Rachel’ was one of the first films to use West Horsley Place as a location. Filmed in the spring of 2016, West Horsley Place’s ownership had recently been gifted to the Mary Roxburghe Trust by Bamber & Christina Gascoigne. Commercial activity such as filming is a vital part of the Trust’s effort to put the estate on a sustainable financial footing, as well as fitting into our charitable mandate of supporting the performing and visual arts.
‘My Cousin Rachel is one of du Maurier’s most psychologically sophisticated works, ‘ says the film’s Producer Kevin Loader, ‘It really taps into all the discomforts of the mind, into our deepest emotions of love and death and their accompanying fears.’
The My Cousin Rachel team were at West Horsley Place for several months, as the house features as the ancestral home of Philip Ashley (the central character of the film and novel) and is therefore the main location. Adapted from the novel by Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel is set in Cornwall, which is some distance from West Horsley! Through the magic of special effects the house is transported to a Cornish cliff-side setting.
According to the producers casting the estate was nearly as involving an enterprise as casting the main characters, since it too had to have a strong, mystery-laden personality. Our sprawling mediaeval house, constructed between the 15th and 18th centuries, had not been touched for many decades so it had both the decrepitude and the potential that was needed to create an estate that transforms with Rachel’s arrival.
For du Maurier’s granddaughter, Grace Browning, the house was everything she imagined it could be reading the novel,
‘When I read the book, this is exactly the house that I pictured in my mind, it was a welcome relief to see how brilliantly the house fit the book.’
For Director Roger Michell there was no doubt that they had found the right property,
‘We were all really surprised when we set foot inside it for the first time. We all rather fell in love- the spirit of the place was so alive and raw.’
The aim of Production Designer Alice Normington was to alter the house gradually over the course of the film from a dark, dusty, neglected and masculine place to a lighter, more sophisticated atmosphere reflecting Rachel’s incremental influence over her cousin.
Almost every area of the house was used as a setting, with varying degrees of transformation required. Neither the Library nor the main staircase and landing required drastic re-dressing; as you can see from the picture above the Library was the ideal location for the character of Philip to do some serious brooding, while the staircase is the setting for one of the most dramatic moments in the film.
Other spaces such as the Stone Hall (above), Stone Parlour (below) and Lady Crewe’s bedroom (above) were transfigured so completely as to be almost unrecognisable at first glance. The speed and skill of the art, design and props departments was a wonder to behold.
For My Cousin Rachel, as for every film or TV drama shot at West Horsley, the Trust seeks to find the perfect balance that allows the production to fulfil their artistic vision while protecting the historic fabric of the building.
The story, like the best of du Maurier’s work, combines mystery and suspense with a sweeping sense of romance. Lady Crewe’s bedroom is the perfect setting for some of the more passionate scenes, including a midnight wall-scaling escapade.
We hope you enjoy the film. To find out more about West Horsley Place and the Mary Roxburghe Trust visit our website: www.westhorsleyplace.org.
Images courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.