As seen on TV: Truth versus fiction
PUBLISHED: 09:10 18 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:10 19 February 2020
The homes seen on our film and TV screens aren’t always as they appear. Richard Burton investigated.
I was in Shere when the crew of the 2006 rom-com The Holiday were spraying the lanes leading to Kate Winslet's idyllic Surrey cottage with fake snow.
When the film screened a year later, the cottage became as recognisable as Winslet, not to mention Jude Law and Cameron Diaz who got all snuggly in it.
What many viewers didn't know at the time was that it never existed. The pub did. I sheltered there from the fake flakes. And so did the shops and quintessentially English narrow lanes.
The cottage, modelled on one the location team found miles away, was recreated in an empty field, well, the front of it, and the interior which drove a spike in interest in English country homes was built in a California studio.
It wasn't the first time a film star had been created by a film producer's love of set design. This one of course was the work of someone regarded by many as the doyenne. Architectural Digest once described Nancy Meyers' sets as "pure escapism".
Examining why, in their words, everyone wants a Nancy Meyers home, they recalled: "Meyers' sets are perfect emblems of the Pinterest era.
"Her movie homes have inspired numerous Pinterest boards themselves, with obsessive fandoms to match. Blogs rank her kitchens, while Meyers gets speaking engagements solely about her interiors."
And they work on the small screen too. BBC divorce drama The Split may have attracted criticism for the way it depicts a law firm, but it's had viewers gushing on Twitter over the main characters' stunning family home.
Each week we get glimpses of the sweeping hallway, a front door that looks as if it should open to music and an open-plan kitchen and living space big enough to accommodate a judge and jury.
Then there's James Nesbitt's rather more understated, but subtly stylish, period home in Cold Feet. Or the rustic and delightfully airy Devon home that was the focal point for all the family conflict in Gold Digger.
The homes business knows all too well the value of leveraging the through-the-keyhole aspirations of viewers who see the homes as the real star turn.
Ikea had probably its biggest-ever social media success when it dug deep into its catalogue to find the furniture and fittings it needed to recreate Rachel and Monica's apartment in Friends, complete with purple walls and theatrical touches.
Hardly surprising, given the way it so effortlessly blended cosy simplicity with the most social of spaces, not to mention a balcony overlooking the sort of iconic New York tenement scenes since Hitchcock shot Rear Window.
Heather Kolich addressed this on Howstuffworks.com. "In real estate, it's location, location, location. But when the home is a TV set, anything goes," she wrote. "The exterior of a famous TV home might come from one building, while the interior lives behind a different façade or in a filming studio.
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"Still, the houses (or mansions, or futuristic spaceships) take on a new life in our minds, and it's easy to imagine living in them. Some TV homes have appeal because of their setting and features, while others exude their own kind of alluring personality."
With many of the homes we know so well, the insides are miles away from the outsides, often made of plywood and stashed in a soulless studio, something I had to explain to a tourist peering into the window of Doc Martin's cottage in Cornwall recently.
The flip side of course is that many TV and movie scenes are shot in real homes, courtesy of location finders such as Shoot Factory which has a few prime Hertfordshire properties on its books, from a modernist family home in Berkhamsted to a Victorian farmhouse in Buntingford.
It can be a lucrative business for anyone who has a home the camera will love. Renting out a house can earn the owner up to £5,000 a day if it's going to appear in a feature film.
Shoot Factory boss Daniel Garry, explained: "There is definitely demand for normal properties, but you need good access, good light, good size rooms.
"A very small two-up, two-down terraced property is not of interest, but for the average family home there is demand. A cameraman would need to be able to pull back to shoot a living room."
Obviously, the bigger the house, the better its production potential - and fee - and there's no shortage in this area.
Wrotham Park has played host to many film and TV productions, including Bridget Jones's Diary, Jeeves and Wooster and Kingsman: The Secret Service, while Hatfield House has hosted the likes of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Luton Hoo, meanwhile, has hosted scenes for The World is Not Enough and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
There have been more than 70 film and TV productions at Knebworth House, including Love Actually, Batman and Paddington 2.
Two years ago, the staff of British Vogue put their heads together to come up with their all-time best film interiors.
They came up with a wide and varied list which included Mike Nicholls's 1967 Oscar-winner, The Graduate, all curved bar and black leather armchairs it described as every bit as alluring as Dustin Hoffman's love interest.
Then there was Amelie which they described as "shot in saturated colour" and "as rich in home inspiration as it was in verse" thanks to the main character's bedroom which "was every bit as quirky as she was with its thick quilted bedspread, dark red wallpaper, boudoir lampshades and be-coned dog portraits".
My favourite was Roman Polanski's 2010 thriller, The Ghost Writer, which they described as "a clever complement to the chilling plot line". Ewan McGregor played a journalist whisked out to a desert dune hideaway and given a wide wooden desk in a room of the richest and earthiest tones and floor-to-ceiling windows in which to write in peace.
Which brings me back to that moment in Shere. While the final cut did bring back memories of a breezy afternoon behind the barriers, and they had closed the actual pub so Diaz and Law's eyes could actually meet in the bar, I couldn't say the same for the authenticity of Kate Winslet's office.
She played a wedding writer on the Daily Telegraph who couldn't find love of her own. Problem was, the opening scenes were shot in the office purporting to be the one I'd left a couple of hours earlier in the day and where I'd spent ten years of my working life.
Her office (yep, not deskspace) was bigger than Jason Robards' at the Washington Post in All the President's Men and the main newsroom looked more like a rather untidy private members' club.
To be fair, they did borrow the screensavers we had at the time. But if the real office had been half as lavish, I'd have gladly stayed ten more.
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