Napoleon: How Hollywood has landed in the heart of England

Joaquin Phoenix in NapoleonApple Original Films/Columbia Pictures

Hitting cinemas in the space of the week, Saltburn, a dark comedy set in 2006, and Napoleon, a biopic about the infamous French leader, may not appear to have much in common, but both were filmed at Northamptonshire stately homes less than 10 miles apart. With Brad Pitt also shooting his latest movie at Silverstone this year, why is Hollywood landing in the heart of England?

‘People look on Google’

Napoleon

Apple Original Films/Columbia Pictures

Boughton House, near Kettering, calls itself the English Versailles, so it was no surprise the producers of Ridley Scott’s historical epic Napoleon came calling.

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Charles Lister, property manager at the home, says: “Having a film crew come to a house does involve a vast amount of work.

“But it does have many rewards – it helps with publicity and it does generate a lot of income, which can put towards things like conservation.”

It also featured prominently in the 2012 adaptation of Les Misérables, starring Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.

Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix

Apple Original Films/Columbia Pictures

On being chosen by film producers, Mr Lister says: “Partly it’s word of mouth. We’re very lucky in the county, we have so many historic houses and historic places that can generate interest.

“But it can be as simple as people looking on Google for a particular period, such as a French house in England.”

Jonny Shelton is a production liaison manager for Creative UK, which helps film producers find locations around the country, including for Napoleon.

He says Boughton House is “one of the best” copies of Versailles and “for French architecture in the UK”.

“It’s also advantageous it’s quite close to London,” he adds.

The ‘secret’ house in Saltburn

Saltburn

Amazon Studios

Starring Rosmund Pike and Barry Keoghan, Saltburn is written and directed by Oscar winner Emerald Fennell and shot at Drayton House, near Lowick.

Reportedly the cast and crew were not allowed to reveal the location of the film, as the Grade I-listed property is still a private home.

Fennell told Vanity Fair she wanted the location to be somewhere unfamiliar to audiences and where she could film both inside and exterior shots.

Saltburn

Amazon Studios

But the location was identified by the media and eagle-eyed social media users when the trailer was released earlier this year.

Unlike Boughton House, Drayton is not open to the public and the owners declined to comment on the filming of Saltburn.

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Mr Shelton says in cases like this, the producers can find a place they like and “literally knock on the door” to ask to film there.

“Location managers need very good communication skills,” he adds.

Film stars and fast cars

Brad Pitt

PA Media

The British Grand Prix attracts glitz and glamour every year to rural south Northamptonshire.

But this year there was added excitement as Brad Pitt was not just there to see the racing at Silverstone, but he got in a car and on to the circuit for a new film.

The Oscar winner was playing the role of a veteran driver returning to the grid after a 30-year absence.

The as-yet-untitled film is being made in collaboration with F1, providing it with special access to racetracks and drivers.

Mr Shelton says when talking to locations, he emphasises the main advantage is free advertising, but adds “it’s better than that, because you’ll actually get paid for it”.

He says he spoke to Silverstone earlier this year and the circuit is “really interested in working with the film and TV sector”.

Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt at Silverstone

Getty Images

The circuit also features in the Disney documentary series on Brawn GP and Jenson Button’s 2009 Formula 1 world title, released earlier this month.

It is presented by Keanu Reeves, who filmed at Silverstone and visited the team’s former factory in Brackley, which is now where Mercedes GP is based.

The John Wick star also left an impression on the county, gate-crashing a wedding and stopping for a meal in a local pub.

Saying no to Netflix

Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in the final season of The Crown

Netflix

The last three series of Netflix hit The Crown have included a portrayal of Princess Diana, so it made sense for the producers to ask to film at her childhood home Althorp, which has appeared in other films and TV shows.

But Earl Spencer, her brother, said no, telling the BBC: “They applied. They wanted to shoot here. But I don’t really do that stuff.

“Actually, to be honest, I don’t watch The Crown, so I just said: ‘Thank you, but no thank you.'”

However, the latest and final series of the show, released earlier this month, did film in the county, shooting scenes in Oundle.

Cars from the 1990s were parked on the street, a disused electricals shop was turned into a photography store and a local cafe was also used for certain scenes.

Mr Shelton says: “It’s great for Northamptonshire. Film tourism is massive, it’s bigger than it’s ever been.

“When they shoot on location, the impact they have is enormous. They will spend thousands of pounds a day and that goes into the local economy.”

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Related Topics

  • Television
  • Oundle
  • Film
  • Netflix

Around the BBC

  • Saltburn and the bizarre life of Britain’s stately homes – BBC Culture

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