Starring Keira Knightley - and Norfolk

Emma Lee Once again the stunning Norfolk landscape is starring in a new film - Keira Knightley's The Duchess, which was partly filmed on Cley Marshes.

Emma Lee

The young woman weeps as she cradles her baby girl for the last time. Then, against a backdrop of desolate marshland and stormy skies, she hands her over to her new guardians.

This heartbreaking scene is the emotional climax of The Duchess - the eagerly-anticipated film which tells the story of one of the 18th century's most famous women.

And, once again, it's the stunning Norfolk countryside that's playing a starring role on the big screen.

A decade on from Gwyneth Paltrow's famous walk along Holkham Beach in Shakespeare in Love, Hollywood has moved a bit further round the coast to Cley Marshes.

And this time it's Keira Knightley wearing the corset and playing the leading role of Georgiana.

Most Read

The film, which also stars Suffolk-born actor Ralph Fiennes, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper and Charlotte Rampling, screened to critics for the first time yesterday, ahead of its cinema release early next month.

And the marshes aren't the only location that will look a bit familiar.

Last autumn film crews also took up residence at Holkham Hall, the seat of the 7th Earl of Leicester.

The imposing palladian mansion is one of two stately homes (the other is Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire) which plays the interior of Devonshire House, the Duke's austere London residence.

The instantly recognisable, sweeping marble staircase features in many scenes.

It's not surprising that the area was chosen as a location given that the film's director, Saul Dibb, spent several years in the county as a student at the University of East Anglia.

The intriguing Georgiana was the 'It' girl of the 18th century - some parallels have been drawn between her life and that of her direct descendant, Norfolk-born Diana, Princess of Wales.

Suffice to say, had Heat magazine existed in the 18th century Georgiana would have been on the cover every week.

Based on Amanda Foreman's acclaimed biography, the Duchess is portrayed as a woman of contradictions: fashion icon, compulsive gambler, political campaigner and - behind the scenes - a doting mother.

But at the film's core is her complex, loveless arranged marriage to the older, emotionally distant, Duke of Devonshire (Fiennes).

Part of the deal brokered by Georgiana's mother is that she will bear him a male heir - and the Duke becomes frustrated when she gives birth to two daughters.

The web becomes even more tangled when the Duke embarks on an affair with Georgiana's confidant, Lady Bess Foster (Atwell), and moves her into their home.

Meanwhile, passionate Georgiana also discovers her true love, the prime minister-to-be Charles Grey (Cooper) and faces a stark choice between her children and her lover.

It's hoped that Norfolk's latest appearance on the silver screen will give another boost to the county's tourism industry.

Richard Gledson, managing director of Coke Estates, said: “Having seen the film being made at Holkham and in the surrounding area all those months ago, we are all looking forward to seeing the finished product when it comes out in September.

“When film companies use historic houses for a major film such as The Duchess there is always an upturn in visitor numbers when the film and DVD are released. This is a great bonus for a house such as Holkham and we look forward to welcoming people who want to come and match scenes in the film to rooms within the Hall and to scenes to the surrounding area. The overall effect can only be good news for tourism in Norfolk,” he says.

Brendan Joyce, director of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which owns and runs the Cley Marshes reserve, said filming took place over about a week last September.

“We've had some pretty wacky suggestions from film-makers that want to re-enact battles and blow up bits of the reserve and we've always said no to them.

“With this film, we negotiated very carefully to make sure there was no damage or disturbance to the wildlife and I'm pleased to say it was handled very carefully and sensitively.

“The filming attracted quite a lot of interest. At one point they had a stagecoach out on the marshes and there were some temporary structures as well that people were asking about. It probably got us a few more visitors.

“I didn't get to meet Kiera Knightley but I'm looking forward to seeing the film. It will be nice to be able to say 'Look, that's Cley nature reserve'.”

The Duchess is released on September 5.