Osterley Park transformed for ITV's Vanity Fair
Social climbing, the Battle of Waterloo, bold red uniforms and a star-studded cast: all these came together in autumn 2018 for ITV's adaptation of Vanity Fair - originally a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. Charting the story of cunning opportunist Becky Sharp and her best friend Amelia Sedley, parts of the story were filmed at Osterley Park near London.
Charting the ups and downs of Georgian high society, Vanity Fair follows the lives of Becky Sharp and her friends and relations during and after the Napoleonic Wars. One of the narrative’s pivotal moments is the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, where central characters George Osborn and William Dobbin find themselves fighting Napoleon’s forces.
It was at the National Trust’s Osterley House and Park, a sprawling Georgian estate on the outskirts of London, that George and William were filmed meeting their regiment, and preparing to do their duty for King and country.
Behind the scenes with ITV
In October 2017 almost 150 people and 12 horses transformed the stable block, which is normally the tea room, into a bustling scene, filled with soldiers, street vendors, smoke and carriages.
For Osterley’s General Manager Neil Cole, this was a truly special moment, “The stables haven’t been used for filming before – productions have usually focused on the interiors and exteriors of the house, so to see the stables come alive was brilliant.”
It is the coming to life of a property, that is such an important part of filming. Regular visitors get to see their property in a totally different way, and for those that have never visited, seeing it on TV or the silver screen might inspire them to do so. For the staff and volunteers, welcoming cast and crew adds an entirely new dimension to their day job.
As Judith Evans, House Steward at Osterley Park says, “It’s amazing to see the house dressed beautifully. It gives you a real sense of what it would have been like in that period. The stable yard lends itself so well to the military scenes”.
Alongside the stable yard, the inside of Osterley House also features in the show. Osterley’s grand Entrance Hall, charmingly named Eating Room, imposing Great Stairs and gardens also have starring roles.
Unravelling the layers of Osterley Park
While Osterley in its current form is Georgian, the original house and the stables were built during the Tudor period. It is even said that Tudor owner Sir Thomas Gresham had to extend the stables to accommodate a visit from Queen Elizabeth I.
With such an important place in history and with such complex filming requirements, great care was taken to protect the house and stable yard. Under the guidance of our staff, volunteers, conservator and curator, the film crew were able to shoot their atmospheric smokey scenes without the risk of fire and the collection and interiors were protected.
Finding the perfect location
Location Manager, Ben Mangham acknowledged both the challenge and benefits of working within a historic setting, "The location is just as important as the characters. If you put brilliant characters in a brilliant space you get brilliance. It must make the work of an actor so much easier to get into character, knowing you are in a real setting.”
" When we film at National Trust properties we need to make sure we get what the production needs, but also leave the house perfect. I want my grandchildren to be able to come to these houses. TV and film comes and goes, but these houses are going to be here for hundreds of years."
For all the challenges of filming in a location such as Osterley, the positives are significant. Most importantly, the income from filming contributes towards the conservation work, at the property.
As a location for many shows and films, including Batman: The Dark Knight, Dr Thorne and Miss Potter, Osterley Park has used the income to undertake significant works to the West Front and West Steps. More work is planned for the north and south sides, which will be helped by the income from Vanity Fair.
The other benefit is to visitors, especially the local community, many of whom walk their dogs, or run through the park on a regular basis. For these lucky few the set was open, allowing members of the public to watch as the action unfolded.
As Neil Cole, Osterley Park’s General Manager says, “Everyone is really fascinated when we have filming here. Our regular park users are always interested – they come up to us and say they have seen Osterley on TV. Our local audience take a lot of pride in the fact Osterley has been used as a location.”