Inside Hollywood’s Favorite Castle: Highclere

Have you watched a movie lately and been blown away by the incredible architecture – but somehow the stunning manor house seemed familiar? It’s entirely possible. Highclere Castle is a favorite Hollywood location, currently featured in 50 films and TV shows according to IMDB. At over 175 years old, it’s more popular than ever.

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Highclere Castle is built in Jacobethan style, with nods to Renaissance style and Gothic architecture. One of the most recognizable features is its slender towers – which viewers are likely to start spotting once they know to look for them whenever the exterior is used as a location in a film or TV show.

However there are plenty of locations inside the manor – it has 300 rooms. Eagle-eyed viewers may become familiar with its vaulted ceilings and the massive atrium.

According to Highclere Castle’s website, the earliest written histories of the castle date back to the year 749, but the building we now know as Highclere wasn’t built until 1842. The third Lord Carnavaron hired a well-known architect named Sir Charles Barry, who had recently rebuilt the Houses of Parliament. Despite this momentous achievement, Barry would go on to consider Highclere one of his best projects.

According to CR Fashion Book, at one time the Hampshire, England estate had an extensive staff – 14 footmen, 3 butlers, and 50 maids.

The grounds may also be familiar to viewers. While they are less distinctive that the pointed towers of the house, they are no less sculptural and carefully designed. The classic English gardens are broken up follies. They were built in the 1700s, and have Greek themes such as “Corinthian columns,” and “Temple of Diana.”

As well as being the home of many well-known fictional characters, Highclere Castle is still a real home today – to the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnavaron.

Decades of Film, Television, and Music Video

“The Missionary,” a 1982 film starring Michael Palin, featured the castle as an estate that the main character visited. In 1987, the exterior was used in the classic 1987 children’s movie “The Secret Garden” – this time as Misselthwaite Manor.

From 1990-1993, the estate featured frequently as “Totleigh Towers” in the popular TV comedy Jeeves and Wooster, starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. In 1991 the manor appeared in the film King Ralph, and in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Perhaps most surprisingly, the stately salon provided an interior location for Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” – yes, that scene.

In 2002, it was used for interior shots. The time the salon was used as a setting for the film, “The Four Feathers,” starring Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson. Fans of John Legend will remember his 2006 song “Heaven.” The video is packed with religious symbolism, but the exteriors are shot on the grounds of Highclere Castle, with the incredible architecture clearly visible in the background.

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Downton Abbey Makes Highclere Castle Iconic

While the property has clearly always been a favorite for shooting anything that needs to project an aura of old money grandeur, interest in Highclere Castle spiked with the release of Downton Abbey. Executive producer of Downton Abbey Julian Fellowes is a family friend of the Earl and Lady of Carnavon, and they allowed him to set the series in the main house.

Many productions have used the manor as a setting, but Downton Abbey went so far as to integrate the real history of Highclere Castle into the lore of the show. For instance, during World War II, the Countess of Carnavon opened a room to wounded soldiers, which Downton Abbey loosely used as a storyline by having Downton be used as a convalescent home during the war. The real Highclere was also host to royals, and a royal visit was used as the inciting incident in the recent Downton Abbey feature film.

Downtown Abbey ran for six seasons, with an average of 9.6 million viewers per episode, all shot at Highclere Castle (both inside and outside.) The estate, already highly recognizable, became beloved.

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Champagne Picnics and Cottage Overnights at the “most famous house in the world”

Since Downton Abbey aired the visitor total at Highclere has doubled – and they’re willing to pay top dollar to walk the grounds and see inside what has been called, “the most famous house in the world.”

Superfans schedule “champagne picnics” in the gardens (about $115 for two,) and guided tours of the castle (at about $170 per person.) For some though, just visiting isn’t enough. At the moment the castle provides limited stays in a few cottages on the property, and for a single night in November of 2019, they opened up the main building itself to a select few on airbnb for those who wanted to indulge in the fantasy.

For the majority of fans, though, there’s enough of Highclere Castle’s stunning architecture to spot on the big screen.

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Sources: Highclere Castle, IMDB, CR Fashion Book, GBH, wkyc studios, Architectural Digest

 

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