Launched by Disney at the recent Grammy Awards, Maleficent looks to be one of the most talked about films of 2014. Angelina Jolie stars in the story which describes how a purehearted girl later becomes the wicked fairy from the tale of Sleeping Beauty.
In a key supporting role is the Ashridge Estate, where 2,000 acres of ancient woodland provided the magical forest in the film. The woodland even took centre stage at the Grammy’s where Disney’s trailer for the film also showcased Lana Del Ray’s new song. It was the perfect setting, with a bit of blue lighting and mist, for the haunting and very slightly creepy “Once Upon a Dream”. Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of the mad-for-revenge Maleficent seems at a glance to be even nastier than Glenn Close as Cruella De Ville. An imposing presence whose red lipped wicked smile is balanced by cheekbones you could cut ice with, just in case you mistook her for being at all adorable. But there is no CGI trickery about the location itself – it’s somewhere you too can visit.
Ashridge Estate, perhaps like the stars of Maleficent, is worthy of an Oscar and this isn’t its first screen role. The ancient woodland has appeared in Les Misérables, Sleepy Hollow and Harry Potter, where its most famous tree, a gnarled and knotted 400 year old beech with a 25 metre span took a turn as the Whomping Willow.
No diva like tantrums here, Ashridge Estate is equally welcoming to tourists, visitors and fans as it is to the A-listers and provides a wonderful habitat for a wide range of animals, from minibeasts to badgers, birds and foxes. Set amid ancient woodland, rolling hills and chalk downland, the 5,000-acres can be explored by foot or on a bike. On screen, it does a great job of being both magical and haunting, a versatile place where anything is possible. It stood in for Sherwood Forest in Sir Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe – which broke records for having the highest number of crew and cast on set at one time. If you want epic, it would be hard to top that.
But my personal favourite performance by Ashridge ancient woodland is its amazing display of bluebells. In 2013 it was especially exuberant and accompanied by incredible birdsong. With no special effects at all it created something truly astonishing and this wasn’t limited to Ashridge. All over the UK we saw incredible spring and summer flower displays both in gardens and in the wild accompanied by a wealth of butterflies – arguably more beautiful than any starlet on Oscar night.
Many other National Trust places have had a life on film, some, such as Ham House, appearing many times. Located in Richmond on the edge of London, it was on screen in the 2010 film Never Let Me Go starring Keira Knightly, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. It was also used for Vronsky’s rooms in Anna Karenina in 2012 as appearing in the science fiction movie John Carter the same year.
So should you wish to stand where heroes and villains have stood you can do worse than to invest in a National Trust membership. That small card is your backstage pass to some of the most incredible film sets in the world, from a host of Hollywood and Independent films and to some of our most iconic television series.
This is a high definition, surround sound, fully fragrant immersive experience with the breeze on your face and mud on your boots as extra features with no additional charge. It costs less than a year’s subscription to satellite or cable or even paying the licence fee. And less than a monthly cinema ticket . Plus who needs popcorn when you can have tea and cake in a fine tea room during the intermission?
As for rubbing shoulders with the stars, no guarantees as we are sworn to secrecy about whether or where any locations are in use for filming. However, out away from the bright lights on a clear winter evening take a look up. Now that really is an epic scene.
Harvey Edgington Media and Broadcast Manager shares here as part of the Film Programme for BBC Radio 4 his segment begins at time sequence 09:10 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03qflhm
Follow this link for a map of locations used in film and TV http://ow.ly/t0BdS
For a guide to stargazing in the Brian Cox sense, see http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/activities/stargazing/
By Mary Cook Video Strategy Intern