Written by Shona Smith on Feb 27, 2020. Posted in On Location

Colourful Emma adaptation filmed on location in an East Sussex manor house

Scouting a Georgian-era house that would allow extensive set decoration and production design was key to fulfilling director Autumn De Wilde’s vision of a "heightened colourful world" for Emma.

Finding the Woodhouse residence, Hartfield, that could be extensively decorated in keeping with the tone of the project was a particular challenge as many historic properties in the UK are landmarks belonging to the National Trust and cannot be altered.

The comedic Austen’s adaptation filmed in Sussex manor house, Firle Place. The residence took on the role of Hartfield House, the home of restless Emma Woodhouse who must navigate her way through romantic and social challenges while growing up as the "Queen Bee" in a small sleepy village.

“It’s a very colourful period. Colour was how you showed your wealth and status" says de Wilde. "We all committed to pushing this heightened colourful world to the limit, but the origin of our colour story was based on historical research”.

Production designer Kave Quinn (The Woman in Black, Judy) and costume designer Alexandra Byrne (Doctor Strange, Avengers) sought to create a colourful and vivid historical world that was inviting to audiences.

A visit to London's Sir John Sloane Museum which Quinn describes as "a time capsule of the period", full of Georgian paintings, sculpture, architectural fragments, models and furniture, further influenced de Wilde's vision for Emma.

Unfolding over four seasons in the small village of Highbury, the team created palettes for each season with traditional Georgian tones.

Firle Place, a manor house in East Sussex was the chosen location. Although built in the fifteenth century, the manor has a Georgian style exterior. “What was amazing about Firle Place is that it is a Tudor house with a Georgian Baroque building added onto it,” Quinn explains. “Since that period, they haven’t really changed the house radically. There are no Victorian additions. It’s pretty much preserved as it was in the late 18th century. The family and the Trust that owns the house were very excited about us filming there. It was absolutely incredible what they allowed us to do to their beautiful building.”

The property allowed for extensive changes to interiors, as set decorator Stella Fox explains, “we painted absolutely every single room. Every single pair of drapes was made for the house. We brought in all our own furniture, Autumn was always encouraging of a boldness throughout the entire film… It was like working in a doll’s house. Each room had its own color palette going on”.

Precautions were taken to ensure no damages were caused to the property. Foam mouldings and painted panels were applied to areas of the house such as the central corridor which “went from a white hallway to a panelled, ornately-decorated hallway” according to Quinn.

Another key location that appears throughout the film is the local haberdashery. where several key encounters take place. A set was constructed in the village hall of a small English town. “It just was perfect, facing some houses on the other side of the river,” says Quinn. “It was like this shop had a window on the whole village. Rather than doing drapery shop fittings that were dark, we wanted to make them bright and colourful, a little bit like a Georgian version of the shop from Little House on the Prairie.”

Image Credits: Liam Daniel / Focus Features

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