Filming locations used for new The Secret Garden movie starring Colin Firth
PUBLISHED: 20:27 18 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:58 20 October 2020
A new adaptation of The Secret Garden finally arrives at cinemas and on Sky Cinema this week after its much-delayed UK release.
The first sentence of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous novel describes orphaned child protagonist Mary Lennox as, “the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen”.
Through her interaction with the magical garden of the book’s title, Mary learns to heal herself.
“The story clearly has an enduring power which attracts us back to it, again and again,” says producer Rosie Alison.
“There is something so simple yet universal about the conceit of a secret garden – and a lonely child in a wintry house finding that hidden garden, a lost place with the power to restore and heal her life through nature, and friendship.”
She adds: “I think everybody can grasp that central conceit of a lost secret place where you can open the door and suddenly everything is going to be sunlit and radiant and blossoming. Finding your way to your lost inner haven is something everybody can relate to.”
But where was the latest version of The Secret Garden filmed?
Starring Colin Firth and Dame Julie Walters, The Secret Garden will be available to see in UK cinemas and on Sky Cinema from Friday, October 23, 2020.
While Yorkshire was used extensively for the movie, interior scenes of the film based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s enduring 1911 children’s novel were shot on location at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire.
In June 2018, Woodhall Park and the grounds of Heath Mount School, in Watton-at-Stone, also provided the setting for the 2020 release from the producers of Harry Potter and the recent Paddington movies.
Filming took place in the estate’s walled garden, woodland and park, with a starring role for one of the 500-year-old oak trees within the historic parkland.
The Secret Garden tells the story of Mary Lennox, played by Dixie Egerickx, a prickly and unloved 10-year-old girl, born in India to wealthy British parents.
When they die suddenly, she is sent back to England to live with her mysterious uncle, Archibald Craven, on his remote country estate, Misselthwaite Manor, deep in the Yorkshire Moors, under the watchful eye of formidable housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters) and with only the household maid for company.
Mary begins to uncover many family secrets, particularly after chancing upon her sickly cousin Colin, who has been shut away in a wing of the house, and through her discovery of a wondrous garden, locked away and lost within the grounds of the estate.
For this version of the tale, the movie is set just after the Second World War, in 1947, on the eve of Partition in India.
Oscar winner Colin Firth takes on the role of Archibald Craven, having previously appeared in the 1987 TV movie version as an adult Colin Craven.
The movie is directed by Marc Munden and produced by David Heyman, whose credits include the Harry Potter series, Gravity, Fantastic Beasts and Paddington.
Scenes in Archibald’s study at Misselthwaite – with its taxidermy cases of animals – were filmed at Knebworth House, while the kitchen at Osterley Park in London was also used for filming.
All the other interiors were then built as sets at Pinewood Studios.
“For the interior of Misselthwaite we wanted a big, empty, latent, haunted space for Mary to step into,” reveals Munden.
“That’s something that you see in stories like Jane Eyre and Rebecca.”
While Gothic mansion Knebworth House is once again utilised by filmmakers, having previously been everything from Batman’s Wayne Manor to Balmoral Castle in The Crown, it’s the immersive gardens that really bring The Secret Garden to life.
The filmmakers embarked on an odyssey around Yorkshire, North Wales, the Forest of Dean, Wiltshire, Hertfordshire, Dorset and Cornwall to piece together the special places that would form their secret garden in the movie.
Filming of The Secret Garden took place on location at Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, Fountains Abbey and Helmsley Walled Garden in Yorkshire, Trebah Gardens in Cornwall, and Bodnant Garden in Wales.
“We went to look at 50 or 60 gardens all across the country,” says production designer Grant Montgomery, “and then we whittled it down and chose our final few.
“That was really interesting because we were creating a different environment with each of the gardens.”
When Mary first enters the garden she finds herself in a primeval wood, which was filmed at Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, with its mossy stones, peculiar trees and rock corridors, the latter formed by the workings of an old iron mine.
She then discovers a beautiful meadow with flowers and a running stream, which was captured at Bodnant Garden, near Colwyn Bay, Conwy, North Wales. Also filmed there was the wondrous long Laburnum Arch.
The secret garden also hosts a valley with giant tree ferns and gunnera, which were shot in the sub-tropical environment of Trebah Gardens in Cornwall.
At the heart of the garden, meanwhile, lies a sunken temple, which was filmed at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.
The beautiful Harold Peto garden at Iford Manor in Wiltshire was used for what producer Rosie Alison says “epitomises what everyone feels the Secret Garden would be with colonnades and wisteria”.
The only built set was the clearing in the garden where lies a huge tree with a swing.
“Our production designer, Grant Montgomery, found a wonderful tree and built an amphitheatre of flowers around it; it became a flowering meadow bank, in Hertfordshire,” says Alison.
With colour playing such an important role in the movie, the filmmakers also partially constructed their own version of the famous 55 metre-long Laburnum Arch, which is one of the highlights of spring at Bodnant Garden.
“We built the opening section of the arch, next to the secret garden gate, in Hertfordshire,” says Lucinda Mclean at Filmscapes, “because the Laburnum walkway had to be joined to our set’s garden wall and gate.”
Helmsley Walled Garden, a five-acre garden beneath the ruins of Helmsley Castle in Yorkshire, was another film location.
“Instead of picking one or two locations near the M25, and creating a garden in a backlot, we wanted to evoke a wilder, more extensive garden as boundless as Mary’s imagination,” adds producer Alison.
“Existing gardens were always our primary inspiration, rather than ‘reinventing’ nature through visual effects.”
Such is the popularity of The Secret Garden, it has already played on the big screen four times. It has also inspired a Broadway play and four television adaptations.
Producer Rosie Alison, however, believes that the story is ripe for a retelling, proving especially pertinent to the 21st century, especially as so few children will have seen the earlier adaptations.
“It has been 27 years since the last film version,” she says, “and a whole new generation of children are largely unaware of The Secret Garden and are thereby missing out on the pleasures of this mysterious, uncanny and profound story.
“Also, we are today ever further away from nature,” she continues, “and we are ever more in need of its benefits. Hence, the idea that you can go through a little gate into something that will open you up remains as potent as ever.
“And I hope that with our adaptation we have made something more psychologically searching than what’s been seen before, building on a deeper sense of what our relationship with nature can be.”
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