Castle Howard, located northeast of York, England, took more than 100 years and the lifetime of three Earls to build, resulting in an unmistakable silhouette that has become immortalized on screen. In The Buccaneers, based on Edith Wharton's last novel, unfinished at her death in 1937, Castle Howard serves as Longlands, home to the Duke and Duchess of Trevenick.
Castle Howard was the first work of amateur architect and playwright John Vanbrugh, who was commissioned to build the mansion in 1699 by the 3rd Earl of Carlisle. Created in the opulent Baroque style, it comprises two wings flanking a unique and at 70 feet, massive central dome that crowns the mansion's Great Hall and whose interior is painted in the Rococo flourishes of Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini. The facade is festooned with details of coronets, ciphers, coats of arms, sea horses and cherubs. Yet with the addition of its somber, Palladian-style west wing, the building departs from symmetry and the Baroque style of the rest of the house.
In 1940, fire swept through Castle Howard, destroying much of the house and the glorious dome. Even today, cracks on the floor of the Great Hall attest to the fire, marking where debris from the dome crashed to the ground. When George Howard, father of Castle Howard's current owner, returned injured from fighting in World War II, the house was roofless and gutted, and trustees had begun selling off its contents, thinking the splendid era had ended forever. But a vigorous commitment to restoration and a certain television series called Brideshead Revisited, filmed on location at Castle Howard, made possible a nearly half-century long effort to return to splendor.
Set in England in the 1870s, The Buccaneers features a group of spirited American girls from a background of "new money," who, snubbed by New York society, launch themselves into the English aristocracy, which sees them as a cash infusion to help save their crumbling estates.
As the Victorian aristocrat Lord Brightlingsea exclaims, "Pretty soon, the aristocracy will be extinct. And our great houses will litter the countryside like the bones of dinosaurs." But Longlands will suffer no such fate -- it doesn't need money to run the vast and powerful estate of the Trevenick family but rather a woman to marry the Duke of Trevenick, become a Duchess, and produce an heir. And it's the protagonist, Nan, who suffers that fate, trapped in the gilded cage of Longlands in a loveless marriage of cold, hard duty that promises to extinguish her spirit.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Castle Howard's Great Hall, when Nan's first arrival at Longlands as the newly-married Duchess of Trevenick is met with a seemingly endless array of servants standing at attention, commanded by a coldly impersonal general of a Dowager Duchess. Yet more servants look down at her, lining the balconies of the great dome above. In spite of its playful flourishes, the dome seems an ominous, enormous cap that is to close off Nan and seal her fate.
The Buccaneers Producer and Director Philip Saville recalls a wonderful experience filming in Castle Howard, where he found an opportunity to "speak on the screen." "Castle Howard was very inspiring and I wanted to equate the impact it would have on this quite ordinary girl," Saville said.
Filming amidst so much history was a worthwhile challenge. "During a scene in which Carla Gugino [Nan] was walking along a corridor that was lined with statues...one of the old floorboards creaked," Saville said. "And what happened was that the grip accidentally knocked into one of the plinths [bases] holding up a sculpture that had been done by some famous 18th century sculptor. We thought, well, there goes the budget, but he leapt out and somehow, caught it. I'm afraid that got a bigger gasp than the actress!"
The Castle fascinated not just the director but the cast as well, inspiring Greg Wise [Guy Thwaite], who had trained as an architect before his acting career, to make sketches of the castle and other locations during the production. Some of these he gave to Philip Saville after The Buccaneers production concluded.
Visitors have frequented Castle Howard since 1952, when it opened its doors to help finance necessary restorations. The dome was rebuilt and redecorated in 1960-62, and the Garden Hall restored courtesy of proceeds from the filming of the 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, which made the Castle the home of the aristocratic Flyte family. Subsequent filming has generated income for further restoration of the fire-damaged Castle. In 2008, the feature film Brideshead Revisited returned to Castle Howard. Numerous other films, ranging from Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon to Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties, have also been filmed at the Castle.
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Over 200,000 people visit Castle Howard each year, with varying dates and times, detailed on its website, for visitors to enjoy the house as well as special events, concerts, boat trips on the Great Lake and an adventure playground suitable for children of all ages. There are three cafes and several shops including a plant center and a farm shop.