A Look at the Emma Film Location Firle Place
The newest film version of the 1815 Jane Austen classic Emma hits theaters in the United States tonight. I’m very excited to see the movie based on all the beautiful images I’ve seen so far from director Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of Emma. According to AD, “de Wilde explained to her production crew that the misguided heroine at the centre of the tale views the people around her as dolls to be played with. Therefore, the task at hand for production designer Kave Quinn, set decorator Stella Fox, and their team was to build Emma, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, a bright and colourful dollhouse.”
The first order of business was finding a Georgian style house that hadn’t been seen in any other films or television and one whose owners wouldn’t mind if they made over some of the rooms with bright paint, patterned wallpaper, and extensive draperies. That’s how historic the estate Firle Place was chosen to represent Hartfield, the home Emma Woodhouse shares with her father, Mr. Woodhouse. Once lived in by Sir John Gage, a soldier-courtier of King Henry VIII, it is still owned by his descendants, and is currently the home of Henry Nicholas, 8th Viscount Gage and his family.
Lord Gage said: “Lady Gage and I were absolutely delighted when Autumn De Wilde chose Firle Place as the location for Hartfield in her new film adaption of Jane Austen’s Emma. The house lends itself well as a film location and we embraced the bright new Georgian colours which Autumn used to bring Emma’s home to life. My wife, youngest son and I had the absolute pleasure of being extras in the film.”
I’ve pulled together some stills from Emma with photos of Firle Place to show how much went into changing them. It’s amazing that the owners agreed to all the work but I’m sure the production fees are necessary to keep old historic estates running and to pay for ongoing repairs. I can also imagine that the movie will also increase tourism and events scheduled on the property. Look what happened to Highclere Castle after Downton Abbey filmed on their estate.
Author Eleanor Catton, who wrote the screenplay, recalled visiting the location at Firle Place during filming and said: “It was such an exciting film in that there were no sets at all, everything was on location and it was just beautiful.”
Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma.
I love the front garden in front of Firle Place. Behind the first door opening is a small courtyard that leads to the entrance. “Originally a Tudor stately home and garden, the property was remodeled in the 18th century, now standing as an elegant Georgian mansion arranged around two courtyards.”
Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma and Johnny Flynn who plays George Knightley filming in the entry courtyard.
This is how the entry courtyard usually looks.
Anya Taylor-Joy in the entry courtyard in Emma.
In Emma, the Great Hall of Hartfield is a beautiful pastel confection. “The main hall was originally painted white. It had no adornment, so we added paneling and painted the hallway pink,” said production designer Kave Quinn.
In real life, the Great Hall of Firle Place is a neutral space filled with heraldic decorations.
Another look at the Great Hall of Hartfield in Emma.
The Greal Hall leads to the Little Hall and Staircase.
The film crew had the Little Hall and Staircase painted a bolder Wedgewood pottery shade of blue which made the moldings and decoration really stand out. I read that the homeowner’s wife wanted to keep some of the bright colors but the husband was not as keen on the idea. Some changes were kept for the the summer for visitors and tour groups to see last summer after filming ended but were reverted back later.
This image from the Firle Place Instagram account show the very faint blue original color of the walls compared to the bright blue seen in Emma. I think the brighter color is so much more striking but it would be nice if the owners painted the walls at least a little darker blue than the original pale shade so the decoration pops more.
Actor Bill Nighy who plays Mr. Woodhouse on the Staircase.
Another view of the original pale blue and ivory shades of the Little Hall and Staircase at Firle Place.
This is a terrible photo from Emma but it shows that the Little Hall leads to the Downstairs Drawing Room.
The Downstairs Drawing Room at Firle Place. Production designer Kave Quinn said, “The sitting room where you see Emma and her father frequently—which I believe was designed by William Kent—had been painted a very pale yellow, which would have read as off-white on camera. We painted that a much stronger yellow.”
This image from Emma in the Upstairs Italian Drawing Room is my favorite. This is the original green color of the room. “Flowers pulled the whole thing together, and also signified the changing seasons throughout the film. We referenced Cecil Beaton photographs quite a lot for the floral displays and we worked with a very talented florist to give everything a very elegant, handpicked style, so it felt like they were picked and displayed by Emma.”
A look at the Upstair Italian Drawing Room of Firle Place as it usually appears.
“I think people often look back at the period and think things were very muted and faded, but that’s just because the costumes from that period are faded now in contemporary times,” notes Fox. “If you look at the ceramics, for example, that survived from the Georgian period, they have very heightened, punchy colours. That was something that Autumn was very keen to show.”
“In the mint-coloured drawing room, we left two Chippendale cabinets because they were so beautiful,” says Quinn.
And now that filming has wrapped, Fox says most of the traces of Emma’s brightly coloured world have been wiped clean. “I think the lady of the house wanted to keep more of it like how we decorated, but I think he maybe put his foot down about some of the vibrant pinks and things,” she says. “It’s gone back to how it is, which I was quite keen about, so that our world of Hartfield would be kept just for our film—completely unique.”
Another look at how the Upstairs Italian Drawing Room is usually decorated.
The same view of the Upstairs Italian Drawing Room as it appears in Emma.
I thought this was how the dining room at Firle Place usually looked but it’s actually the Billiard Room decorated as the dining room in Emma.
“The fabrics are sourced from all over Europe. A lot of Italian silk and printed silks and hand embroidered pieces,” says Fox. “We took a lot of references from original Robert Adam buildings. They are just very courageous with their drapery choices and their furniture upholstery.”
Knightley and Emma again in the dining room.
You can see that the window frames and seats in the Billiard Room match those in the dining room scenes in the film.
Each room in the home, called Hartfield in the story, is more colourful than the next, and while they aren’t monochromatic, they each have a colour identity that creates a sort of visual rainbow as Emma flits around, dreaming up her matchmaking machinations. “In Emma’s bedroom, for example, I wanted it to feel like an Italian ice cream. You’ve got corals and oranges and then it is a gradient of those colours, right down to a pinkish ivory colour,” says Fox. “You’ve got one colour in a lot of different gradients within the same room which provided a real elegance I think.”
The only bedroom photo I could find from Firle Place.
The exterior of Firle Place.
Knightley outside the same area in Emma.
Sheep graze outside Firle Place. “Looking out onto the rolling chalk folds of the Sussex South Downs and complete with almost 300 acres of stunning private gardens, it is certainly a fitting home for a period-drama heroine. It’s open to the public and plays host to a plethora of events, such as a garden show and horse trials,” says Tatler.
Emma and Harriet take a stroll by the sheep in Emma.
I went to see Emma Thursday night and you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love this film. It’s the best Jane Austen adaptation I’ve seen in a long time. The colors and Georgian interiors are divine and the costumes are gorgeous. I definitely want to see it again and I can’t wait until I can buy it so I can pour over ever scene. It’s honestly the first film I’ve seen in ages where I wasn’t trying to check my watch and wondering when it was going to end. I actually didn’t want it to end. It was perfection.