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Open Features: National Trust Goes Gruesome

Jane Travis says that following the success of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, the latest film to transform historic National Trust places is Burke and Hare – a dark comedy about the true story of 19th century body snatchers starring British actors Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis.

Osterley House in Middlesex, Knole in Kent and West Wycombe hill in Buckinghamshire were the three Trust locations transformed to provide the backdrops for grizzly scenes including human dissection, a macabre Edinburgh market place and a grave robbery, all under the command of director John Landis.

At the Iron Age West Wycombe hill a false graveyard was constructed under the watchful gaze of Trust archaeologists. Neil Harris, Gardens & Countryside Manager at West Wycombe, said: “One of the night scenes was lit from above by a huge light on an even larger crane, which looked as if an alien space craft was hovering above the hill. The whole hill top was shrouded in dry ice which really added to the spooky effects.”

At Knole a huge market scene was created in the courtyard, evoking the chaos of 19th century market places with produce and animals for sale. Over 200 cast and crew, 300 extras, 30 sheep, 20 chickens, 15 Highland cattle, ten geese, nine horses and two dogs took part in the scene.

In a scene shot at Osterley House, the servants’ hall doubled up as a dissection room, where Lauren Taylor from the National Trust film unit performed a very important – if slightly odd – job, holding up pieces of plastic to protect the interiors from squirting blood.

The film, which is in cinemas from October 29th, follows the hectic lives of William Burke and William Hare as they go about making a hefty profit from dead bodies.

Lauren Taylor said: “People love to know what went on ‘behind the scenes’ of a movie set and visit the real location of a film once they’ve seen it on the big screen. It’s not all costume dramas filmed at National Trust places; people are surprised to find out we host so many movie shoots each year of all film genres, from comic or historic to action and fantasy”.

Every film shot in National Trust places or land generates income for the place in which it was filmed, to continue looking after the historic building or site of natural beauty.

Burke and Hare is a comedic take on the true story of the 1828 Edinburgh body-snatchers William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis). These two Irish entrepreneurs, spurred on by a chance meeting with a gorgeous actress (Isla Fisher), discover that a dead body can fetch a hefty price when the demands of the leading medical professors Dr. Knox (Tom Wilkinson) and Dr. Monroe (Tim Curry) reach beyond that of the local supply.

Starring: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Jessica Hynes, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry and Ronnie Corbett

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