ITV’S highly anticipated adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair starts this Sunday at 9pm. Those of you who live locally to West Horsley Place may well have wondered what was being filmed here in the depths of January and we are delighted to finally lift the veil of secrecy. Vanity Fair is set to become one of the biggest TV dramas of the year- and much of the action was filmed at Grade I listed West Horsley Place.
With a stellar cast including Olivia Cooke, Tom Bateman, Johnny Flynn, Martin Clunes, Frances de la Tour, Suranne Jones and Michael Palin, West Horsley Place provides the interiors for Queen’s Crawley (Martin Clunes’ character Sir Pitt Crawley’s house) in this adaptation of Thackeray’s literary classic, which takes place during the Napoleonic Wars and follows modern heroine Becky Sharp (Olivia Cooke) as she attempts to claw her way out of poverty and scale the heights of English Society. Shooting at West Horsley Place happened over three weeks, with sets created in many rooms as well the gardens and estate. Those walking their dogs on the estate may well have been surprised to see the dashing hero of the piece (Tom Bateman) cantering his stallion across our fields! As the house is a cross section of different architectural and decorative styles it was able to provide sets for several locations in the series including Pumpernickel, Coventry Island, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and Queen’s Crawley. Managing a film crew and cast of that size is quite an operation; our priority was to work closely with the crew to ensure that the historic fabric of the house was completely protected during the shoot. Those who have visited West Horsley Place will recognise the Stone Hall (pictured above in a ball scene) as the dining room at Queens Crawley alongside our staircase and drawing room. One spectacular scene required the orchard to be transformed into a winter paradise of snow and ice; as the weather was not obliging a visual effects team was brought in to cover the ground with fake snow and the trees with fake frost. This was quite beautiful and was all washed away the following day as if it had never existed. The cast and crew were extremely friendly and professional showing great respect for and appreciation of their temporary new home despite our lack of any heating. The use of West Horsley Place as a location for film and TV provides essential income to fund restoration works as well as fitting into West Horsley Place’s ethos as a home for the arts.
Commenting, Peter Pearce, Director of West Horsley Place, said:
“We were thrilled to be chosen as a location for Vanity Fair, and are very much looking forward to seeing West Horsley Place on television this autumn. Literature is all-important to the story of this great house. When Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe died, in addition to the bequest to Bamber Gascoigne was a bequest to Trinity College, Cambridge of 7,500 books held in the library at West Horsley Place collected by the Duchess’ father and grandfather and recognised as “one of the most important private collections in Britain.” Amongst the treasures to have been discovered here were first editions by Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth and Tennyson and previously unknown manuscripts of Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington, Florence Nightingale and Charles Dickens. Now, at the Wren Library, these treasures are available to everyone. Through film, we are able to celebrate these literary links and to take a step closer to saving West Horsley Place. Our vision is that West Horsley Place will be reborn as a place for everyone to enjoy, whether as a theatre guest, visitor to the house or garden or as a student learning a craft to enjoy and practice at home. There is a great history to be discovered, and a new role for this grand old house to play in its community. It will be an entrancing future!”
Martin Clunes was at West Horsley Place every day of the shoot. In between takes he was interested to learn about the history of the place and the exciting plans for its future. He said, “West Horsley was my favourite of all of the houses we visited. Freezing but beautiful. It’s colder inside than out. But it is really pretty. And it looks real, lived in and a bit wonky.”