It’s been mooted as “the most divisive film of the year”, with keen discussion among cinema-goers before they’ve even emerged from screening rooms. But one thing we can all agree on about Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn is its true star (OK, aside from Rosamund Pike): Saltburn itself.
The Catton family seat is fictional. But it exists in real life in the form of Drayton House in Northamptonshire, the Grade-I listed, 127-room pile belonging to the Stopford Sackville family (since the 1770s).
It’s one of a number of stately homes that have had recent film and television audiences swooning, and tourism body VisitBritain and the British Film Commission (BFC) have joined forces to capitalise on the interest.
A campaign called Starring Great Britain, to launch next year, will highlight notable British filming locations, from the Lyme Regis seafront in Dorset (once again seen in the upcoming Wonka) to the Birmingham stomping grounds in Peaky Blinders.
Drayton had never been filmed before, something Fennell said was imperative: “It needed to be something that hadn’t been used before. That hadn’t been photographed even, let alone put on film. We always wanted the exact sense that it is a real place.”
Discovered by Fennell and production designer Suzie Davies, the pair not only managed to convince the owners to permit filming, they were allowed “free rein” to rearrange and redecorate rooms. (The TV room, for instance, is usually a breakfast room, and Davies ripped up the carpet, added silk panels, and painted it.)
Cinematographer Linus Sandgren frames the house’s baroque facade to breathtaking effect, and set designer Charlotte Dirickx played a key role in the property’s transformation. The bath in that scene? Custom-made.
Drayton isn’t open to the public, probably to the dismay of VisitBritain as well as admirers of its star Jacob Elordi, but guided tours and private parties can be arranged by appointment, if you fancy recreating Oliver’s birthday knees-up.
Here, we take a look at 10 other stately home leading characters – and see whether you’ll be welcome.
Hatfield House (The Favourite)
There are plenty of wonderful moments and set-pieces in Yorgos Lanthimos’s award-scooping The Favourite (2018), the dark comedy set in the early 18th century which revolves around Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her court. There’s the duck-racing; the 17 pet rabbits; the library sex. But perhaps one of the most memorable scenes is that of the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone) shooting outdoors, a garden scene that allows another key protagonist to shine: Hatfield House.
Built in 1611 by the first Earl of Salisbury on the site of a royal palace (which served as Elizabeth I’s childhood home), the Grade I-listed house remains in the Salisbury family today. Queen Anne’s bedroom in the film is, in fact, the King James drawing room with most of the furniture removed, while the dance takes place among the glorious black-and-white chequered floor and oak-panelled splendour of the Marble Hall.
Can I visit?
Well, you can’t right now, because it’s closed for the season – except for a special Christmas feast experience. But when the house and gardens re-open in the summer, you sure can!
Ettington Park (The Haunting)
Here we have some fierce competition between stately home locations thanks to a 1999 remake of the original. The exterior shots of Hill House in the 1963 version – the 13th greatest horror film of all time, according to us – were filmed here, just outside Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. The mansion was remodelled in the mid-19th century in the splendid neo-gothic style (by a pupil of Pugin no less). The core of the house is centuries older, however.
Fast forward to 1999, and Catherine Zeta-Jones was being haunted in Harlaxton House in Lincolnshire (as well as Los Angeles studio sets). It’s extremely important to note that the manor, which is a blend of Jacobethan and Elizabethan architecture, was built (in 1830) for a man named Gregory Gregory.
Can I visit?
Not only can you visit Ettington Park, you can stay (should you dare, it is haunted after all) as the house is now a four-star hotel offering “warm, uncompromising luxury”. You can also visit by appointment. Harlaxton meanwhile hosts weddings, corporate events and there are open days too.
Stokesay Court (Atonement)
It was Keira Knightley, in the library, with the green dress. That was the most glorious shot of Atonement (2007), despite the fact director Joe Wright also blessed us with a five minute tracking shot on the beach of Dunkirk (well, Redcar).
The library in question belongs to Stokesay Court in Shropshire, which Wright first spotted in an issue of Country Life magazine. Built for the Allcroft family in 1889 by the architect Thomas Harris, the house, like many of its kind, hosted convalescing soldiers after the first world war. Stokesay fell into disrepair through much of the latter half of the 20th century thanks to its reclusive and eccentric then-residents, but in 1994 its entire contents were auctioned by Sothebys and it underwent significant repairs.
You’ll no doubt remember Knightley’s Cecilia cooling off in the beautiful lily-adorned lake in the gardens, and then there’s the fountain scene giving La Dolce Vita a run for its money.
Can I visit?
Of course! There is a festive event in late December, and then the house reopens for guided tours from April next year, often conducted by its current owner and featuring artefacts from the film.
Wrotham Park (Gosford Park)
Gosford Park? More like Wrotham Park, which is where Robert Altman and perennial country house botherer Julian Fellowes’ black comedy-mystery was filmed. The critically acclaimed whodunnit with the seemingly endless ensemble cast was shot at Wrotham for exterior and ground floor scenes, with the upstairs of Syon House used for things like Ryan Philippe unbuttoning Kristin Scott Thomas’s dress. Additional filming took place at Hall Barn in Buckinghamshire (and Shepperton Studios).
Wrotham (pronounced roo-tem) Park in Hertfordshire is in the neo-Palladian style. Designed in 1754 for the Byng family (who still own it), with its 2,500 acres and 18 bedrooms, it is one of the largest privately owned homes inside the M25 (and is where Ashley Cole and then-wife Cheryl had their marriage blessed).
Unfortunately, Admiral John Byng didn’t get to enjoy his new house because he was executed for messing up during the Seven Years War, an incident satirised by Voltaire in Candide. Syon House, meanwhile, is the Grade-I listed neoclassical residence of the Duke of Northumberland (currently a dude called Ralph Percy).
Can I visit?
Well, you can and you can’t. Wrotham isn’t open to the public, but you can book it for weddings, parties and corporate events – if you don’t get executed beforehand. Syon House – which reopens in March 2024 – can be visited and offers discounts to local residents, and kids under 16 go free. Hall Barn you can’t visit at all.
Kenwood House (Notting Hill)
Time to get meta! Though the film Notting Hill is largely based in … uh, Notting Hill, the location in which Julia Roberts’ film star character is filming her film (keep up) is Hampstead Heath. When Grant’s character rocks up to her set, he is actually on the grounds of Kenwood House, nestled amid the Heath – one of north London’s greenest green spaces.
And next time you’re having a pint, please raise your glass to brewing magnate Edward Cecil Guinness, for it was he who saved Kenwood from the threat of developers in 1925 and restored the house to its former glory and, in what’s known as the Iveagh bequest, donated one of the most impressive art collections to the home – and the nation. Visitors can see works by Rembrandt, Turner, Gainsborough and Vermeer.
The majority of the house itself was designed in 1764 by the Scottish artist Robert Adam in his signature neoclassical style. In particular, the library, with its ornate pink and blue ceiling featuring paintings by Antonio Zucchi, has to be one of the most beautiful in the UK.
Can I visit?
Having previously lived a 10-minute walk away, I can state with certainty that you can. Kenwood is still home to its artistic masterpieces, and that beautiful library was restored a decade ago. There’s also a secondhand bookshop, cafe and plenty of activities for kids. Best of all? It’s free.
Chatsworth House (Pride and Prejudice)
Chatsworth barely needs an introduction, so beloved is this Derbyshire pile. It’s been seen in everything from Pride and Prejudice (the 2005 film, as well as the iconic 1995 television series – although that lake scene was filmed at Lyme Park in Cheshire).
The seat of the Devonshire family, Chatsworth House has 300 rooms and took 21 years to build beginning in the late 18th century (replacing an earlier house constructed by Bess of Hardwick and her husband William Cavendish), with final additions coming a century later. The decor includes plenty of eastern influence, including hand-painted Chinese wallpapers.
Can I visit?
You can indeed. Or 30 rooms at least, as the house is still the Devonshire family home. But you can gawk at the painted hall and sculpted gallery, for instance, or perambulate around the 105-acre gardens; pre-book tickets here.
Melton Constable Hall (The Go-Between)
Based on LP Hartley’s novel of the same name, the fantastic The Go-Between (1971), directed by Joseph Losey with a script by Harold Pinter and starring Julie Christie, is a forebear of Saltburn: it revolves around a lad, Colston, staying with his wealthy school friend over summer (which also coincides with his birthday).
Melton Constable Hall in Norfolk, remodelled during the mid-18th century in the Christopher Wren style, was used as the location for the fictional Brandham estate. The house was unoccupied at the time of shooting, and production crew had to repaint it and mow the lawns to make it appear habitable.
It was sold in 2017, at a knockdown price of £1.25m due to its poor condition, to a guy called Roger Gawn, who got in trouble and ended up in the Daily Mail when he cut down trees in the grounds.
The Go-Between was adapted again in 2015 by the BBC for television. Filming for that version took place at the Elizabethan Englefield House in Berkshire.
Can I visit?
Unfortunately not, as it is Gawn’s private home. Englefield House is also private, except for big money hires, but its gardens are open to the public every Monday.
Castle Howard (Brideshead Revisited)
I suppose I should really say Brideshead Re-revisited, as Castle Howard served as the location for both the 1981 TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel (an inspiration for Saltburn), and the 2008 film version starring Emma Thompson, Ben Whishaw and Matthew Goode.
Castle Howard is a spectacular baroque home which was commissioned by the third Earl of Carlisle. Its most notable elements are its giant symmetrical wings and a crowning central dome. Construction began in 1701 by the earl’s friend and fellow Kit-Kat Club member, John Vanbrugh (who also designed Oxfordshire’s Blenhem Palace). The final addition to the house was the long gallery in 1811, which Chips Channon described as “reminiscent of the Vatican”.
The gardens – and Sebastian and Charles’s carefree enjoyment of them – are equally as famous. Not everyone has been happy with the choice of Castle Howard as the stand-in for Brideshead, however (which was actually thought to be inspired by Madresfield Court in Worcestershire). Christopher Hitchens wrote that it was too “ostentatiously massive”.
Can I visit?
Sure thing, since 1952, thanks to the Howards. But don’t forget your debit card – it’s cashless here. Dogs are welcome in the grounds, but not in the house obviously.
Knebworth House (Batman)
If Knebworth sounds familiar, that’s because the 250-acre grounds of the house in Hertfordshire host the Knebworth festival, a recurrent open air rock and pop extravaganza that began in 1974, and has featured massive gigs by The Rolling Stones, Queen and Elton John, among others.
The house itself – which played the exterior of Wayne Manor in Tim Burton’s Batman of 1989 – is a Tudor gothic beast, complete with impressive turrets, gargoyles and domes. (The interior scenes, including the gaming room and study, were shot at Hatfield House.)
As with many of the stately homes on this list, Knebworth evolved from an earlier house, in this case a red-brick manor that was acquired by the Lytton family in 1490. Its major transformation in its gothic revival style occurred in the 1840s.
Probably its most famous owner was the novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who wrote the lines “it was a dark and stormy night” and “the pen is mightier than the sword”. The current custodian, screenwriter Henry Lytton-Cobbold (author of a memoir entitled Great Great Great and self-described as “probably TMI”) is a lively blogger and presence on X, who welcomes film and television crews.
In addition to Bruce Wayne, he’s thrown his doors open to receive the producers of St Trinian’s 2 (2009, probably regrets that, in fairness); Samantha Morton (in Jane Eyre, 1997) and even girl band Little Mix.
Can I visit?
Stoke Park (Bridget Jones’s Diary)
Our second Hugh Grant-associated entry on the list – but then, Grant is the archetypal British gentleman. Stoke Park is the venue of Bridget and Daniel’s “full-blown mini-break holiday weekend” (a sign of true love, according to Bridget). Its lake is also the location for the infamous limerick-on-a-rowing-boat scene.
Though the original estate is recorded in the Domesday Book, the present mansion with its crowning dome was designed in 1788 by James Wyatt for politician and writer John Penn. In 1908 it was repurposed as one of the country’s first country clubs. Today it operates as a luxury hotel, and its 13 tennis courts host the exhibition tournament the Boodles Tennis Challenge (former competitors include Novak Djokovic).
As well as providing Bridget with her romantic trip, Stoke Park has also featured in Goldfinger (1964) and Layer Cake (2004).
Can I visit?
Fancy recreating the mini break? Well, you can. Stoke Park is an operating hotel, as in the film. As well as its tennis courts, it boasts a 27-hole golf course, if you want some activity. And “one of the country’s best spas” if you don’t.