With the Oscars and BAFTAs fast approaching we are reflecting on almost 90 years of films and film stars connected to Leeds Castle. The last private owner, Anglo-American heiress Olive, Lady Baillie, welcomed many actors of the silver screen for fashionable weekend house parties at the Castle along with politicians to aristocracy and even royalty. Among those enjoying lavish entertainment were Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Junior and David Niven – to name but a few. Lady Baillie even had a private cinema installed for her guests in the Maiden’s Tower.
The unique setting and beauty of the Castle, described by picture postcard historian Lord Conway in 1913 as “the loveliest castle in the world”, has inspired film-makers across the decades to choose it as a perfect location. From historical feature length productions to Doctor Who and Bollywood, the first film ever made at the Castle was a tale called If Winter Comes, filmed in 1923, based on a Broadway play.
Since then the list has been growing with standout productions such as the famous 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets, an Ealing Studios dark comedy classic in which Sir Alec Guinness plays eight different parts, all from one aristocratic family bent on murder. This was followed in 1958 by The Moonraker, a swashbuckling story about the English Civil War (not to be confused with the Bond film of the same name). Various historic productions followed, with a BBC production of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII in 1979; Lady Jane in 1986 about the tragic history of the ‘nine days’ queen’ starring Helena Bonham Carter and latterly in 2016 The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses with Benedict Cumberbatch starring as Richard III.
Aside from general TV shows such as BBC Bargain Hunt, Antiques Road Trip and Antiques Roadshow, several historical documentaries have been made about the history of the Castle and the six royal queens who have owned it. Dr Helen Castor filmed an episode of She Wolves: England’s Early Queens here using the Barbican and moat side shots to tell the story of the 1321 siege when Queen Isabella was refused entry to the Castle. Then in 2014 The Plantagenets: Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty with historian Dan Jones, who most recently returned for seven days filming in 2016 for Channel 5: The Secrets of Great British Castles. The documentary reveals hidden secrets of Leeds Castle including Edward I bath house to secret Churchill papers from World War II. These papers go on show to the public for the first time in May 2017.