Tuesday, 10 January 2017

ENEMY TERRITORY: WITLEY COURT, WORCESTERSHIRE



Love them or hate them, there is one thing about Stephen Poliakoff’s productions that cannot be denied: the filming is always exquisite.  The recent BBC series Close To The Enemy proved to be no exception for its beautifully shot images of a war-torn Britain.  The story is centred around Captain Callum Ferguson (Jim Sturgess) who is tasked with getting a captured German scientist to work for the RAF on developing the jet engine.  Much of the action takes place around a bombed-out London hotel just after World War II, although some critics have commented on the improbably pristine appearance of the rather glamorous cast. 

Many of the street scenes, while meant to be London, were filmed in Liverpool.  However, some of the most arresting scenes involved the ruined but magnificent Witley Court in Worcestershire, where in late April/early May 2015 the film crew turned up with actors dressed in World War II era uniforms and military vehicles, and where Alfred Molina as Harold Lindsay-Jones was filmed driving up to the property and wandering among the ruins.  On a recent visit to the property, run by English Heritage, we met the lady who got one of the property’s fountains going for the filming and who described to us how interminable the filming was, with take after take after take.  

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This magnificent property was built in 1655 by Thomas Foley and during the 18th century the park was landscaped.  Around 1805 the property underwent a major reconstruction by John Nash on the orders of a second Thomas Foley (there were a number of Thomas Foleys associated with the property, which causes confusion for those studying its history).  The grounds feature two magnificent fountains, Neptune Fountain and the Perseus and Andromeda Fountain, currently undergoing restoration.  Later in its life the property became the scene of lavish house parties, with the then Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII)  a regular visitor.  Sadly, all this came to a tragic end in 1937 when a fire started in the bakery and ripped through a wing of the house.  When the property was sold soon after, what was left of it was stripped by scrap dealers, leaving the present-day shell, a haunting reminder of past glories.  One part of the estate which remains intact, however, is the amazing Parish Church of Great Witley, the neighbouring village.  The church is not in the village but next to the mansion, and boasts a magnificent Baroque interior which is completely disproportionate to its size.  No visit to the estate would be complete without looking in on it.

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As an aside, in 1967 Witley Court was chosen as the backdrop for a promotional film for Procol Harum’s song A Whiter Shade of Pale.  The band members are seen wandering around the grounds looking artistically moody in their trendy Sixties gear at a time when the property was even more derelict than now.   

Witley Court is  next to the village of Great Witley, a few miles north-west of Worcester.

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