Guest blog by Helen Wilkinson of P and P Tours
Actress Emma Thompson recalls her time filming Sense & Sensibility for the 1995 movie directed by Ang Lee,
“The house representing Barton Cottage is one of the most beautiful spots we’ve ever seen. It took the curse off a six-day week.”
The film location researchers knew they had found a world-beating location when they stumbled on the glorious eighteenth century stone cottage on the private Flete Estate in south Devon. It is not only near the Plymouth mentioned in Austen’s novel, but also close to the small town of Newton Ferrers which many believe was an inspiration to Jane for her hero’s surname of Edward Ferrars. Jane and her contemporaries would have passed signs to the small town on the old coaching route between London and the south-west.
Many key scenes in the movie were filmed at Barton; Willoughby carrying Marianne, driving the custom-built yellow curricle, Edward proposing to Elinor, and a piano being delivered to Marianne from Col. Brandon. Director Ang Lee raved about the location, although he found the estuary swans a little too ‘romantic’ and often asked for them to be excluded from shot.
The researchers had stuck closely to Jane Austen’s description of the cottage in chapter 6.
“A view of Barton Valley, as they (Mrs Dashwood and the girls) entered it, gave them cheerfulness. It was a pleasant, fertile spot, well wooded, and rich in pasture. A small green court was the whole of its demesne in front; and a neat wicket-gate admitted them into it. As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance was a sitting room, about sixteen feet square. Four bed-rooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house.”
I am fascinated to see how closely the Flete Estate cottage matches Jane’s description. It too is a perfectly proportioned Georgian house, in a wooded valley exactly as the novel describes, with the wicket- gate and the small green patch in front, almost as if Jane was describing it from life.
In contrast, the later 2007 BBC/PBS Andrew Davies production of Sense & Sensibility used a shepherd’s cottage in wild Hartland, Devon – not the sort of place a genteel widow and her daughter would have settled. It is the kind of property the Georgians would have described as a ‘hovel’ and is only picturesque to a 21st-century audience. The 1995 Barton is well-proportioned, neat and – in comparison to the glories of Norland – a very modest property.
In 2010 we were thrilled to be able to include Barton in our S&S May tour. It was such an enormous hit with the clients – none of them could bear to leave – that we’ll be including it in several of our future trips. There are no cars, and no sounds except the estuary birds which beset the film crew until Ang Lee demanded could someone shut up the geese! The geese won of course!
Helen Wilkinson, P and P Tours
P and P Tours accommodate up to 10 clients at Barton Cottage in Devon as part of their tours. Visit the P and P Tours website for further information and booking details.