Move Over Downton Abbey, Arise Wolf Hall

7 April 2015

The latest British period drama set to grip Australian viewers is the BBC's lavish adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring up the Bodies.

Poised to be broadcast from April 11, this critically-acclaimed six-parter charts King Henry VIII's tempestuous relationship with Anne Boleyn, and the upheaval caused by the English Reformation, amid a slow-burning stew of crackling fires, flickering candles, flamboyant costumes and clip-clopping horses.

Wolf Hall's headline acts are Damian Lewis (Homeland's Nick Brody) as the slim, trim monarch and stage thespian Mark Rylance as his poker-faced advisor, Thomas Cromwell. But for many viewers, the real stars are the sumptuous medieval properties and leafy gardens that were used as filming locations.
Once the preserves of royals, aristocrats (and their servants), these history-soaked haunts can be enjoyed by everyone today.

+ Spoilers +

Barrington Court

Somerset

The series' opening scenes, in which Cromwell's mentor and friend, Cardinal Wolsey (played by Jonathan Pryce), is turfed out of York Place, his stately London residence, were shot in this rambling Tudor house - one of a clutch of National Trust-owned buildings to grace the show.

Completed in the 1550s (a few years after Henry VIII's death), then restored in the 1920s by Colonel Arthur Lyle (the grandson of golden syrup pioneer, Abram Lyle), Barrington Court's interiors were specially dressed for Wolf Hall, as it's usually completely devoid of furniture.

Visitors can walk freely through its well-lit rooms and wood-paneled long gallery, which stretches 40 paces. During the English Civil War in the 1660s, 500 Parliamentary soldiers were billeted in here.

Barrington's pretty gardens and working orchards are a treat to stroll in, and you can bed down in Number 1 Strode House, a delightfully refurbished cottage that's part of what was once a grand stable-block behind the main house. It sleeps six and costs from £312 ($609) for a two-night stay.

 Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall. Image: Broadcasting on 11 April 2015 on BBC First

Montacute House

Somerset

Nestled in sweeping parkland, eight kilometres from Barrington Court as the crow flies, Montacute House has previously featured in other costume dramas, such as Ang Lee's 1995 reworking of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.

In Wolf Hall, this late Elizabethan gem, built in 1598, doubles up as Greenwich, Henry's main London seat. It's also the backdrop to the jousting and archery sequences, as well as the site of Anne Boleyn's arrest.

Flush with period tapestries and furniture, Montacute House boasts what's said to be Elizabethan England’s longest gallery, containing over 60 bygone portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

It's possible to stay at South Lodge - a handsome late-16th-Century building beside the mansion - and Odcombe Lodge, a cosy 19th-Century Grade II listed stone property on the park's edges.

 Filming archery scenes. Image: Broadcasting on 11 April 2015 on BBC First

Penshurst Place

Kent

To add an extra 'frisson' to proceedings, Wolf Hall's producers were keen to film in places that the actors' real-life counterparts had tread. Once owned as a hunting lodge by Henry VIII, and a venue where he spent time with Ann, Penshurst Place appears in key scenes between Damian Lewis and Claire Foy (who plays Anne).

Described as 'the grandest and most perfectly preserved example of a fortified manor house in all England', this 14th-Century mansion has been with the Sidney family for the last 460 years, and showcases a beguiling mix of ancient paintings, tapestries and furniture. Its medieval Baron's Hall - with its 20-metre beamed ceiling and octagonal fireplace - evokes visions of lavish banquets held in bygone times, while its 4.5 hectares of Elizabethan walled gardens play host to a raft of family-friendly events, activities and workshops.

Penshurst's monthly farmers' market has around 40 stalls offering produce sourced from across Kent, a county known as 'The Garden of England'.


Do you love Disney magic? 5 Places That Helped Inspire Disney Movies

More movie inspired travel. Silver Screen Inspiration: On-Location Holidays


Dover Castle

Kent

A series of impressive fortresses appear in Wolf Hall (including Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, Broughton Castle, Oxfordshire and Caerphilly Castle, South Wales). Most significant of all, however, is Dover Castle, which stands in for the Tower of London, and the wind-swept execution scene of Anne Boleyn.

Also used as the backdrop for Anne's beheading in the 2008 movie, The Other Boleyn Girl, this sprawling clifftop castle overlooks the Channel that separates England and France, and has guarded the country's shores for centuries.

Visitors can step into the dazzling medieval royal palace in the Great Tower (once the royal court of Henry II), before delving into the castle's darkly atmospheric tunnels, which bore into the iconic white cliffs of Dover, and played a vital military role during the Napoleonic wars and World War II.

 Dover Castle. Image: Visit Britain

Lacock Abbey

Wiltshire

Founded in the 13th Century as an Augustinian nunnery, this eclectic, cloister-blessed affair - an old favourite of countless period drama directors - represents Wolf Hall, the titular residence and seat of the Seymour family.

In real life, Henry VIII sold Lacock Abbey to one of his courtiers, Sir William Sharington following the dissolution of the monasteries (an act of cultural vandalism set in motion by the English Reformation, which saw England break away from the Roman Catholic Church). It's now a much-visited National Trust property, perched at the heart of charming Lacock village. Spring is a particularly pleasant time to come, as snowdrops and purple and yellow crocuses carpet the abbey grounds.

Another photogenic Wiltshire location is Great Chalfield Manor, a moated 15th-Century property, which doubles up as Austin Friars, Thomas Cromwell's bustling family home.

 Lacock Abbey. Image: Getty

Chastleton House

Oxfordshire

Cromwell's clashes with his brutal blacksmith father in Putney were shot in the small stone courtyard of Chastleton House, 40 kilometres north-west of Oxford.

This Jacobean property - whose vivid interior was also used to shoot scenes in the Seymour household - was built by a wealthy wool merchant in the early-17th Century.

Owned by the same increasingly impoverished family until 1991 - when the National Trust took over - the house remained largely unchanged for over 400 years, and has been dubbed an 'exceptionally well-preserved time capsule'. Because of its fragile state, daily visitor numbers are limited, with tickets issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

 Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall. Image: Broadcasting on 11 April 2015 on BBC First

Gloucester Cathedral

Gloucestershire

Constructed between 1089 and 1499, and transformed into the Tudor king's court for Wolf Hall - such as the scenes in 'Blackfriars' - Gloucester Cathedral is one of a raft of picturesque ecclesiastical buildings to feature in the show (the cathedrals of Wells, Bristol and Winchester are among the others).

Famed for its striking stained-glass windows and for holding the tomb of Edward II (king of England from 1307 to 1327), Gloucester Cathedral is no stranger to film crews.

Its magnificent cloisters were the hallowed corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in three Harry Potter movies.

Steve McKenna

A regular contributor to some of Australia's leading newspapers and travel magazines, Steve McKenna has visited, written about and photographed more than 80 countries on six different continents. He fears he has an incurable case of wanderlust and is particularly fond of Europe, Asia and South America.