When the production team of Never Let Me Go selected London's Ham House as a key location for the film, the usual maintenance schedule for the House's pristine gardens was abandoned.
This resulted in unruly hedges, thriving weeds, neglected flower beds and widely overgrown grass. After much planning the gardens and grounds of Ham House were encouraged to adopt signs of decay and neglect to become the eerie Hailsham boarding school for the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's haunting novel.
Never Let Me Go, which stars Carey Mulligan (An Education), Keira Knightley (Atonement) and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), has been adapted for the screen by Alex Garland (author of the 'The Beach'). In describing the process, Garland suggests it was highly collaborative and explained the author's input in developing the screenplay: "This was written by Ishiguro. I adapted it...and he read every draft."
Ham House, a popular location for filming, is a magnificent seventeenth century mansion on the banks of the River Thames near Richmond. Situated within the M25, it is regarded as one of the best-kept secrets in the British film industry with location managers appreciating its versatility and directors seduced by its good looks.
Hundreds of possible locations were considered, but initial reservations about Ham House's proximity to Heathrow Airport were overcome. Allon Reich, Producer, explains the selection criteria: "We wanted something theoretically 'gone-to-seed.' Close to London, and flat, no skyscrapers on the horizon. Ham House matched nearly all our main requirements".
The National Trust's Property Manger, Gary Calland, said of the production, "it's a big responsibility, and it is all a matter of compromise, between the film-makers' vision, and what is possible. We couldn't manage it without our excellent staff and volunteers. Supporters don't always realise that any film location fees earned at a National Trust property, whether it's a few hundred pounds or tens of thousands, go in their entirety to maintain that specific site, to care for it in the future. So you can see the incentive for us to get involved!"
National Trust properties are among some of the most popular locations in the UK for film-makers, television producers and photographers. The National Trust can provide a range of locations, from stunning coast and countryside to great mansions, lush gardens and working historic mills.
As an environmental organization, the National Trust take green issues seriously and expect their partners, and anyone using the properties, to do the same. The National Trust Film Unit has created a facebook page Green Shoots to encourage film-makers to go green. The page signposts resources and green networking opportunities and suggests ways of how best to achieve a 'green shoot'. The National Trust was also a contributing partner to Film London's Green Screen, a guide which offers information and guidance with the aim of making London the world's greenest place to film.
Recent National Trust shoots including Never Let Me Go, Sherlock Holmes, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and the forthcoming Disney production John Carter of Mars have all practiced green shoots in ever more imaginative ways.
Never Let Me Go shot extensively in the capital, not only using the facilities at East London's 3 Mills Studio but also on location at Ravenscourt Hospital, Chiswick Town Hall, the Royal Academy of Art and Forest School. Released by 20th Century Fox, it will be in cinemas across the UK from Friday 11th February.
Film London would like to thank the National Trust Magazine for contributing to this story.