Friday, 4 August 2017

Basildon Park, England



 
In ‘The London Season’, the Christmas special of the fourth season of DOWNTON ABBEY, Lady Rose (Lily James) is presented at the debutante ball at Buckingham Palace. The episode is set in August 1923.

Actors in the Green Drawing Room
The Crawley family and their staff are staying at Grantham House, their London residence. Among the guests are Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), the mother of Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and her son Harold (Paul Giamatti), who came from America. The real name of the mansion is Bridgewater House and is located at Cleveland Row in London. All interior scenes however were filmed in February 2014, 40 miles (65 kilometres) from the British capitol at Basildon Park in Berkshire.

The mansion was built between 1776 and 1783 to a design by John Carr commissioned by Sir Francis Sykes. His grandson sold the estate, left in a deplorable state, in 1838.

Basildon Park, 2 May 2017
New owners did not manage to permanently restore the house in its former glory. Between 1910 and 1952 Basildon Park was not occupied, with the exception of both wars. Lord and Lady Iliffe decided to save the mansion from deterioration. Their restoration also included adding a collection of important works of art. In 1979 Basildon Park was handed over to the National Trust hoping that, although open to the public, it would stay a home and not be transformed into a traditional museum with gards and labelled paintings - an ideal location for a movie or television show.
 
There are however volunteer guides who will tell you with great enthusiasm about the rooms and the artworks on display. The National Trust has also made a website of the collection with descriptions of over 2000 objects. During our visit, the last of our stay in England, we did not have enough time to see all rooms. The guides were very helpful and pointed out which rooms were used for Downton Abbey. For more information, see the Basildon Park website, including options for a guided Downton Abbey-tour.

The Christmas special was filmed in three rooms on the first floor and the Staircase Hall. While Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is watching, Lady Cora descends the impressive staircase and meets with Lady Rose en Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). Not much is known about the blue decorative urn, probably made by James Wyatt.

Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 0:03:14
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017
Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 0:03:19
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017
Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 0:03:39
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017

Several scenes were made in the Octagon Drawing Room, the most important room in the mansion. As the name indicates, the room has eight walls, three with windows. The walls are decorated with paintings by Italian masters, including 18th century portraits of saints and evangelists by Pompeo Batoni. The large mirrors must have made it a challenge for the production team to stay out of the picture.  

Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 0:18:36
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017
Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 0:49:41
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017
Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 0:50:00
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017
Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 0:50:07
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017
Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 0:57:19
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017
Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 0:58:04
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017

The library was used for one scene, several characters are playing a card game.

Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 1:05:27
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017

The room that was used for the ball is the Dining Room in real life. All objects, including a large table, had to be removed. The guide told us that the room was not built to hold so many people and a production crew. To make sure it would not be damaged the room below was strengthened by putting several objects up to the ceiling.

Downton Abbey, season 4, Christmas special, 1:13:28
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017

The eight episode of the fifth season is also set in Grantham House, when Lady Rose introduces her finance Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber) to her parents. This scene is set again in the Octagon Drawing Room.

Downton Abbey, season 5, episode 8, 0:18:29
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017

The meeting is followed by a dinner in the Dining Room. This time very little had to be changed. The decorations are mostly re-creations. The original panels, doors, mirrors and fireplace, were sold in 1929 and are now in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

Downton Abbey, season 5, episode 8, 0:19:59
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017

After dinner the conservations are being continued in the Green Drawing Room. The name is derived from the walls that have been decorated with green damask that came from curtains made for Englefield House. In the background the painting “Rebecca at the well” can be seen, a Biblical story painted by Sebastiano Galeotti in ca. 1709. The same painting is also on the photo that was made of the main actors of the Christmas special (see above). Lord and Lady Iliffe acquired the painting especially for Basildon Park.

Downton Abbey, season 5, episode 8, 0:43:30
Basildon Park, 2 May 2017

The National Trust has a put a video on YouTube called "When Downton Abbey came to Basildon Park" and two behind-the-scenes videos, Preparing Basildon Park for the Downton Abbey Christmas special and Downton Abbey Christmas special at Basildon Park.


During our visit the gardens of Basildon Park were used for a location shoot for My friend Jane, a television program by the BBC about devoted fans of author Jane Austen. It was made to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her death and broadcasted on 17 July 2017.

Basildon Park, 2 May 2017

Screenshots and cast photo © Carnival Film & Television
 

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