As a new version of Jane Eyre prepares to hit UK cinemas, LIZ BIRD visits its gothic backdrop in pretty, verdant Derbyshire
CHARLOTTE Bronte would probably have approved of the latest adaptation of her classic novel.
Jane Eyre, released in the UK on Friday, is a much darker, more gothic version than the previous 20-odd film and TV adaptations.
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After re-reading the book several times American director Cary Fukunaga said he felt it warranted a more spooky treatment.
One thing that has stayed the same however is the setting for Thornfield Hall where Jane becomes a governess. Haddon Hall, one of Britain's finest fortified medieval manors, is where the BBC and Franco Zeffirelli versions of Jane Eyre were set. It was described by the New York Times as "an ancient, battlemented manor house in windswept Derbyshire that gets pressed into service whenever British filmmakers need some place old and dank looking".
It's hard to imagine this austere-looking country house, in a verdant valley next to the River Wye, teeming with crew during the five weeks of filming last spring.
"It was like a circus coming to town, they brought lorry loads of props and equipment," says head steward Jo Walker as she gives me a tour of the house.
The crew spent a huge amount of time making sure the setting looked authentic. Before filming a scene in the terraced garden where Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre play shuttlecock, days were spent cable-tying blossom to trees. "It was March but spring comes much later here."
Walker can't wait to see the film, not least to find out if the editors slashed footage of some of the estate's long-horned cows getting frisky in the background of one outdoor scene.
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The attention to detail also extended to the interior. Filming in the chapel, home to some exquisite early 15th-century frescoes, has always presented problems for producers due to a prominent late 19th-century marble effigy of Robert Manners, the nine-year-old son of the 8th Duke of Rutland. Walker, who has worked at Haddon for 28 years, says Zeffirelli commissioned a fibreglass model of a medieval knight to cover the tomb. "It's been used for every Jane Eyre production here since."
Walker has also seen Dame Judi Dench (who plays Mrs Fairfax) before at Haddon when it was the setting for Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightley.
She says Dame Judi is a true professional, repeating her lines numerous times until the director is happy. "She is a lovely, funny, woman." Mia Wasikowska, who plays Jane, was "sweet and quiet" and prone to fits of giggles. "I think this was her second big role after Alice In Wonderland. When she got in front of the camera she was incredibly photogenic," says Walker.
As for Michael Fassbender: "He was rather nice although a bit too handsome for Rochester."
One of Haddon's most striking rooms is the Long Gallery with its limed-oak panelling and leaded windows which bathe the room in natural light. Ironically it was transformed into a dark attic for one scene although Walker says this may have ended up on the cutting room floor.
Providing the location for such popular TV and film productions certainly pays off when it comes to attracting visitors. The day after the first episode of the BBC series hit the nation's TV screens, Haddon had one of its busiest days with 800 visitors; not bad for an attraction that pulls in an average of 55,000 people a year.
Jane One of England's largest country houses also features in the new film. Some outdoor scenes, notably where Rochester first encounters Jane, were staged in the grounds of Chatsworth.
Called the "Palace of the Peak" it was once home to Bess of Hardwick and is renowned for its opulent interior and sprawling Capability Brown landscape.
Part of the Peak District National Park, Derbyshire provides a spectacular setting for the film with its wild moorland, limestone caves and pretty villages. It's exactly as Jane describes it in the book: "…the hills, sweet with scent of heath and rush… soft turf, mossy fine and emerald green…" A perfect example is Dovedale on the southern edge of the park with its lush, rounded hills and wooded valleys crossed by drystone walls.
It's always busy with walkers, many of whom head for a restorative afternoon tea at the nearby Izaak Walton Hotel. Named after the 17th-century fisherman and author of The Compleat Angler, it has a cosy bar filled with fishing memorabilia.
Nearby Ashbourne is also worth a visit with its slanted main street lined with attractive houses and antique shops.
Bakewell, two miles from Haddon Hall, is dominated by an imposing church and lined with 18th-century stone houses. There's a bustling Monday cattle market and numerous bakeries selling another major export from Derbyshire, the classic Bakewell Pudding.
Jane Eyre will be released in the UK on Friday, September 9.
Haddon Hall (01629 812855/www.haddonhall.co.uk) opens daily until the end of September and Saturday to Monday during October. Admission £9.50 adult, £5.50 child. East Lodge Hotel (01629 734474/www.eastlodge.com) is offering a special midweek half-price accommodation offer to Express readers. Doubles from £75 per night (two sharing), B&B. Valid until end of March 2012, quote EXPRESS when booking. Visit Peak District & Derbyshire: 01629 816558/www.visitpeakdistrict.com