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Hedda Gabler at Maunsel House

PUBLISHED: 09:00 18 March 2014

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Eighteenth Century Maunsel House is the perfect location for filming Hedda Gabler with its Georgian and Victorian furniture and artifacts

It was the ideal settingIt was the ideal setting

Henrik Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler, first published in 1890, premiered in 1891 in Germany to negative reviews, however the play has subsequently gained recognition as a classic of 19th century realism. Mathew John, a young British filmmaker, for which Hedda is also his directorial debut, has adapted Ibsen’s play for film; he initially approached Margarita Hamilton in the hope of using Walton Castle, near Bristol, as the film location base.

However, Margarita soon realised that not only couldn’t she accommodate the film crew but the castle wasn’t period appropriate so contacted her friend Sir Benjamin Slade of Maunsel House, Somerset.

The 18th century Maunsel House is the perfect location for filming Hedda Gabler with its Georgian and Victorian furniture and artifacts: boar’s heads, stuffed fish, an amazing array of hats and pistols, family photos decked on polished sideboards, and floor to ceiling ancestral paintings. The manifestation of someone’s home rather than a venue location; a perfect backdrop to the lavish costumes that had been especially designed and created for the film. The period costumes are particularly magnificent and beautifully made by Russian designer Olga Wallington, also her first feature film.

Sir Benjamin said: “The film would have won the Guinness Book of records for the lowest cost film!”

Hedda and Aunt JulianHedda and Aunt Julian

Maunsel could provide bedrooms and cottages for cast and crew, and using the sumptuous splendor of the interior of Maunsel House in North Newton, the team didn’t have to hire any furniture. The perfect film location!

Sir Benjamin has flirted with the theatrical business for many years, his long-term partner was actress Kirsten Hughes and he has known Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame, since Julian was a struggling actor living next door in London.

Having been friends for more than 30 years he says Julian got the idea of Downton Abbey from Sir Benjamin because, as has been well documented, Benjamin Slade has been looking for a male heir to inherit Maunsel. No stranger to the media, Sir Benjamin has appeared on eight TV shows in the past year alone. By his own admission he classifies himself as a frustrated producer cum actor. He was therefore very enthusiastic for the Hedda Gabler project and agreed to the filming at Maunsel with one small proviso, that he could have a part in the film! The director agreed and Sir Benjamin plays Lord Carrington, a cameo performance in the pub scene where Ejlert Lovborg loses his manuscript.

It had always been a desire to ‘tread the boards’ but Sir Benjamin had been too busy over the years building up his fortune in shipping and renovating Maunsel House. Hedda Gabler was an opportunity for mutual reciprocation and long-awaited dreams to be fulfilled. The film team was so excited by his passion for involvement that they asked if he would like to co-produce as well. This is also the first motion picture production of Hedda Gabler to be shot using high definition and other latest technical production values. The cast of up-and-coming young British actors is headed by Hedda star Rita Ramnani. Speaking about her role, in a recent BBC interview, Rita said she believes the character of Hedda will resonate strongly with today’s audiences as a person unhappy with the status quo, but powerless to change it.

The Hedda production is also to feature in a documentary, Fires We’re Starting, by the British Film Alliance, which looks at how filmmakers in Britain today, in these exceptionally difficult times, overcome the challenges and bring their projects into being.

Sir Benjamin has invested his own money into the film so is keen for the film to do well, but as with any film, finances are always a problem. Selected scenes from the film were taken to Cannes Film Festival in May in the hope of drumming up some more finances, which by all account was successful. There has been growing interest from distributors in Europe and Australia and a major UK broadcaster.

So what’s happening now? There are a few pick up shots to do and then post production. Despite being shot on a shoestring Hedda Gabler looks like an expensive film thanks to Maunsel House and the costumes. As Sir Benjamin says, with such an investment of talent from cast and crew it deserves to be finished.

Is this the start of a new career for Sir Benjamin? It could be as he says he would certainly like to offer the house for more films and be involved in the production!

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