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Working on large-scale filming…Downton Abbey

DowntonAbbey_FilmingCollageThe excitement and countdown to the Downton Abbey film has begun, with new trailers appearing regularly online ahead of the 13 September release date. This is a much-anticipated event on the film calendar and especially so for Harewood House, which was used as one of the filming locations and settings.

Filming took place in October 2018, when over 100 cast and crew set up in the House and grounds for just under a week. Whilst working on major film projects such as this is extremely exciting, this is also a big undertaking for somewhere like Harewood, a visitor attraction open daily to the public and also a national charity and museum, with a commitment to making its collection accessible and available to the general public.

To give an idea of what it’s like when filming is ongoing, for the few days that it took place, the car park was taken over by a Unit Base, which included trailers for hair and make-up, additional toilets and vans with props and equipment. Cranes and lighting rigs were established on the Terrace to beam large areas of light into the room and to make day into night and night into day. Inside the House, the Tech Village was mainly the Gallery and the directors’ area and screens were located here, in addition to kit, sound technicians, props managers, hair and make-up artists and a general area in which the cast could relax. One of the challenges with working on this scale is to ensure the protection of the artwork and furniture. The Gallery in particular has some of Harewood’s most treasured and valuable pieces, including the Renaissance art collection and some of Chippendale’s finest chairs, pier tables and mirrors. A member of the Collections team was on hand at all times, and there are additional considerations, such as ensuring mats protect equipment from the floor and retaining clear space around the collection pieces. But then add over 100 people into the equation…

One of the most interesting moments came when the Gallery was transformed into the scene of a Ball at Harewood. This necessitated soft lighting and also lighting that was higher within the room. Helium based lights were brought in, under the watchful eye of the Collections Care team. This was a striking image to see giant space-age-looking rectangular helium balloons floating within the classical context of the space.

Harewood House is no stranger to filming and has been used extensively and successfully over the years for many different filming projects, including for two seasons, ITV’s Victoria. Additional work to accommodate filming includes changing picture lights, removing paintings, winding down any clocks to avoid chiming (there are over 30 clocks in the House), removing carpets and porcelain to be stored safely and replaced with replicas and cataloguing the location of every single object which is moved to ensure its safety.

But the magic of TV and film can not be paralleled. Rooms and spaces are transformed, modern features disguised to create an even truer reflection of the period. Furniture is brought in and the ingenious work of the set designers alter the rooms with which we are all so familiar.
Harewood staff had the great fortune to meet members of the cast, including Maggie Smith, Phyllis Logan and Hugh Bonneville, who all showed appreciation for the stories of Harewood and made positive comments about the House and its setting.

We have been more than excited to see the current trailer, where the Gallery, Cinnamon Drawing Room and Terrace are featured. To coincide with the release of the film on 13 September, there will be a display of a selection of Princess Mary’s papers and a display of her wedding veil, slippers and tiara. We’re hoping Downton lovers will want to explore Harewood for themselves.