Filming Britain: Historic properties

Without a doubt, one of the greatest things about Britain is its wealth of historic properties; from country houses of the aristocracy, to theatres and concert halls, we really are spoilt for choice. Another delightful thing about Britain is the range of styles and eras filmmakers have to choose from, working on a film about the Norman Conquest? Well, how about filming at Portchester Castle in Hampshire. Shooting a film about Henry VIII? Then there's Hampton Court Palace in Richmond-Upon-Thames.

The National Trust

When it comes to filming at these historic places, many are looked after by the National Trust, and the rules differ regarding amateur and professional filming. If you’re doing a film on a budget, then you could easily class this is as amateur and still make an awesome film. However, depending on what you’ll be doing with the finished results falls into a different category, especially concerning copyright.

The National Trust states, on indoor filming/photography: “Amateur photography (including filming) without flash is now permitted in historic interiors at the Property Manager’s discretion. As with outdoor photography, any photographs taken are strictly for private use, and enquiries about selling or publishing photographs should be directed to images@nationaltrust.org.uk. However, visitors must be aware that at some places, there may be copyright issues, and further permissions may be required in respect of collections not owned by us. In these situations the Property Manager's decision as to whether photography is allowed is final.”

As one of the UK’s prominent organisations to protect cultural heritage, The National Trust has a huge array of places to film; if you’re doing a professional shoot, which requires lighting, a team etc, then it would be in your best interest to look into their rules on professional filming.

The National Trust has long had a policy on encouraging creatives and generally being film friendly. You have the opportunity to browse by geographical region, county, historical era, architectural style, building type, specific features, or landscape - or any combination of the key criteria - from medieval, monuments and marshes, to topiary, Tudor and temples.

Historic Houses Association

Similar to The National Trust, the Historic Houses Association represents over 1,640 of the UK's privately and charitably owned historic houses, castles and gardens. These are listed buildings or designated gardens, usually Grade I or II*.

Covering the entire breadth of the UK, the HHA features a number of properties that do allow filming, such as the ornate Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and the rustic Norman keep Hedingham Castle in Essex.

Privately owned properties

If you come across a privately owned property that isn’t part of the above organisations, then it comes down to persuasion, blagging and the kindness of the owner. Many historic home owners would allow you to film, if your team is small and you reassure them that you’ll treat their property with the utmost care and respect. Generally, the key to securing this is to really push the promotional angle. Most historic homes, especially country houses, generally have open days, festivals etc, and the prospect of their home being featured in a film is a great incentive to encourage more visitors.

If you’re looking to film at an old theatre or concert hall, then you either need to approach the HR team, which, for example, is the case for the Brighton Dome in Sussex, or the local borough council.

Filming at a historic property will really give your film character, and in most cases, to do so is a fairly simple process.