THE Peak District is bracing itself for a tourism windfall following next week’s release of Jane Eyre.
The box office heavyweight – starring Michael Fassbender, Mia Wasikowska, Jamie Bell and Dame Judi Dench – has been filmed on location around Haddon Hall and is expected to bring sightseers flocking to the area.
Last year around 36 million tourists visited the Peak, bringing in more than £1.5 billion. And as the region gears up to cash in on next year’s Olympics, the role of big screen exposure is not underestimated.
Recent hits which have brought film fans flocking to the area include Pride & Prejudice, The Duchess, The Other Boleyn Girl and Robin Hood.
Medieval Haddon was the obvious choice when director Cary Fukunaga was looking for a suitable Thornfield Hall.
Charlotte Brontë visited Hathersage in 1845 and is thought to have based much of her novel on landmarks she encountered in the area.
Haddon is no stranger to the role – it was cast as Thornfield by Franco Zeffirelli in 1996 and ten years later in the BBC version.
This time more than 100 cast and crew transformed the building, with scenes being filmed in the minstrels’ gallery, the state bedroom, the kitchen and even the private apartments.
Head steward Jo Walker landed the role of ensuring that the historic building and its contents were safe, from the time the crew arrived at 6am each day until they left, often 14 hours later: “We watched them like hawks!” she says,
“We’ve done quite a lot of films, so we’re like a well-oiled machine and we know what’s allowed and what’s not.”
Jo also found herself cast as impromptu props assistant: “I made some tatty curtains to go on the windows of the Long Gallery, which was being made to look like an attic.
“They filled it with junk and cobwebs and screen dust – we were sweeping it up for months – but I’m told the scene ended up on the cutting room floor!”
And she was party to some of the film’s secrets, such as the hundreds of tiny fabric blossoms that were fastened to bare trees in the garden to make it look like spring.
“It was very convincing. In fact when we opened the hall for the new season they were still in place, so we used it as an April fool’s joke.”
The cast and crew were billeted at various locations during the four weeks of filming, with many of the stars staying at the nearby Peacock at Rowsley.
“They’re all lovely but we especially loved having Dame Judi; she’s a national treasure,” says Jo.
“She’s a tiny little lady but with such a sense of humour: very focused on what she’s doing but with a twinkle in her eye. She put everyone else at ease.”
Haddon is only one of the Peak District locations to be featured.
Director Fukunaga has been quoted as saying: “I’m a stickler for raw authenticity, so I’ve spent a lot of time rereading the book and trying to feel out what Charlotte Brontë was feeling when she was writing it.”
The result is said to be darker than previous interpretations. But The Times reports that it is ‘a handsome and satisfying version that makes the landscape as much a star as the excellent leads’.
Other locations include the ruins of Wingfield Manor near Alfreton, which double as Thornfield after it is ravaged by fire, and White Edge Lodge – a former gamekeeper’s cottage, now a National Trust holiday home on the Longshaw Estate – which serves as The Moor House.
And the wild romantic landscape that first inspired Charlotte Brontë is allowed to speak for itself.
Stanage Edge, one of the area’s most dramatic natural landmarks, has been chosen to capture Jane Eyre’s profound sense of isolation. The area around her school is filmed near Edale and the softer countryside where Rochester rides around Thornfield is represented by the lush water meadows below Haddon Hall.
All these sites are likely to sought out by visitors and so-called ‘film tourists’ who are expected to flock to the area over the coming months.
Tourist board marketing head David Thornton says: “Film tourism generates a lot of interest in the Peak District and Derbyshire.”
Jane Eyre is due for UK release on Friday, September 9.