Secrets of Colin Firth’s new movie filmed at Knebworth House
- Credit: Studio Canal / Sky UK
A new adaptation of The Secret Garden comes to Sky Cinema today – October 23 – starring Colin Firth. Alan Davies goes behind the scenes of the movie partly filmed on location at Knebworth House.
Colin Firth and Knebworth House have history.
The actor filmed scenes of The King’s Speech at the Hertfordshire stately home and then got snowed in during filming and had to stay the night as guests of the Lytton Cobbold family.
Firth won an Oscar at the 2011 Academy Awards for playing the stammering future King George VI in that movie.
He also appeared in 2009’s St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold as Geoffrey Thwaites, with Knebworth House doubling for the infamous fictional girls’ school.
Following recent appearances in the Mamma Mia! movies and Kingsman: The Secret Service, Firth returns to our screens in a new adaptation of The Secret Garden, which was partly filmed on location at Knebworth House – just like The King’s Speech.
Scenes of The Secret Garden were shot in the Picture Gallery and State Drawing Room at Knebworth House.
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The Secret Garden was first published in book form in 1911, following its serialisation in The American Magazine from November 1910. Set in Yorkshire, it became one of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s most popular novels and is widely regarded as a classic of English children’s literature.
Firth was so moved by the movie script producer David Heyman had commissioned for the film that he cut short a sabbatical in order to join the cast.
“Colin read the script and couldn’t resist,” says producer Rosie Alison. “He was very moved by the purity of the story.”
A Sky Original from the makers of Harry Potter and the hit Paddington movies, The Secret Garden can be seen on Sky Cinema from October 23.
The film also stars Dixie Egerickx as Mary Lennox and Julie Walters as Misselthwaite’s housekeeper Mrs Medlock.
Now set in 1947, in this latest version of Burnett’s classic children’s novel, Firth plays Archibald Craven, who lives in Misselthwaite Manor.
He previously played the adult Colin Craven in the 1987 TV movie version, with Derek Jacobi as his father Archibald.
Requisitioned by the Army as a hospital for injured soldiers during the Second World War, the palatial Misselthwaite Manor is in a sorry state in Sky Original’s 2020 version of the story, with scenes in Archibald’s study filmed inside Knebworth House.
The uncle to young orphan Mary, Archibald is a mysterious figure and at the story’s outset is akin to the archetype of a lonely, shadowy figure roaming his castle as in Beauty and the Beast or Jane Eyre.
Firth says he found the character as written by Jack Thorne to be a fascinating man to play.
“He is very mysterious,” the acclaimed actor says, “and we don’t meet him for a while.
“Then, when we do, it’s an intimidating experience for Mary. Through Mary’s eyes there’s something rather monstrous about him.
“At Misselthwaite, Mary is in a world that is generally threatening, menacing, empty, despairing. And it all comes from Archibald.
“And it’s very interesting to inhabit a character like that because you’ve got to fill in all the gaps yourself.
“He’s a man in grief; it’s about the death of his wife, and he’s allowed his grief to become a horrible, negative force.”
This malignancy, notes Firth, has affected everyone, and everything, around him.
“He’s allowed his grief to destroy himself and anybody who’s close to him. The garden, the house, his son and all the people who are working around him, they are all damaged.”
Firth, now 60, says that Archibald’s self-consuming grief is terribly narcissistic.
“He’s forgotten about everybody else, or is at least suppressing everybody else. He’s caused them enormous harm, projecting all that self-loathing elsewhere.
“And his son [Colin Craven] is the primary casualty of this man’s self-absorbed depression.”
Archibald is a difficult figure to portray, prompting the filmmakers to turn to one of the most talented British actors of his generation.
“I think Colin was really brave and didn’t mind looking wretched as Archibald,” says director Marc Munden, “and he was great at digging deep into what it must be for a man like that to be in grief.
“Archibald is a pretty hard person to like, but Colin has lots of depth to him, and brought a lot of himself to it.”
Producer David Heyman agrees: “Thanks to Colin’s brilliance, I think that the audience will empathise with him and feel for him so strongly. We feel blessed to have not only a British icon but also a truly great actor.”