Arriving at the castle this weekend, the first group of people you might have bumped into were the Morris Dancers. Remarkably British, they wear bells on their legs and wave sticks around to music, following a rhythmic pattern of dance. Traditionally, a key part of rural celebrations, they joined us for our “Magic of the Movies” weekend. They are colourful and fun, quintessentially part of our countryside and provided an instant welcome to our guests, many of whom arrived in Downton Abbey themed costumes to add to the atmosphere.
The south lawns became the home of the dance and music marquee, shared in turn by the Alex Mendham Band and The Gatsby’s. They both just make your toes tap and reminded us all of the pleasure of sitting listening to music. The Gatsby Girls even took time to teach some of to do some of the 1920’s dances.
For those who felt inclined, badminton and croquet beckoned on the east lawns whilst Luis’s Gin Cocktail Bar mixed excellent refreshing drinks from lunch time onwards.
Of course, the castle tours were the main draw and so we “dressed” the rooms appropriately with various vintage costumes in “Downton Abbey Style” and included lady Almina’s coronation robe from the Robing Room for fun.
The next layer of entertainment required pen and paper. Sally from the gift shop was my writing partner and a little script was the result. Charlotte in the office asked if she could see it. I think she wondered if it existed or was any good at all. Plucking up my courage I asked the Highclere team to join in a rehearsal before we agreed the final version of the script for the weekend’s willing participants. In fact, our in-house rehearsal was a glorious team building exercise and of course revealed some errors which I had time to correct before the weekend.
Movies are magical as they transport us all into other lives and places without us having to leave our seats. The costumes and props, music and words create an imaginative narrative and world in which to escape or emotionally experience. It is a chance to be immersed, to be lost in thought and stories. Two hours in a cinema and then we leave to return to our everyday real world.
Highclere is both a real and a fictional home, playing a silent role throughout the tv series and in the film. It is aspirational but also represents aspirational values in terms of staying quietly there, remaining imperturbable whatever life throws, weathering the weather, the storms and winds.
Some of those who have lived at Highclere in the past have had their own forays into films and Hollywood. The 6th Earl divorced his wife Catherine having been beguiled by the excitement of Tanis Guinness and was drawn into Hollywood: there are a series of letters referencing the great stars of the time, from Douglas Fairbanks to Tallulah Bankhead. Ultimately, Tanis rejected the 6th Earl and she married a film producer. The 6th Earl went on to court many other beautiful women from the world of stage and screen before eventually marrying a celebrity as his second wife: the dancer and actress Tilly Losch. She tried her luck in with Hollywood but sadly never broke into a major part and that marriage too ended in divorce.
As far as Highclere’s own film making was concerned, it had its ups and downs. Our visitors were wonderful and great sport but the centre of attention was probably Alfie the Labrador, and for all the wrong reasons, when he ate part of the afternoon tea that was the central prop in our film script. As the old adage goes – never act with children or animals!