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Image of Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle

London landmarks provide perfect period location for Amma Asante’s Belle

Date posted: 18.06.2014

"London really is a filmmakers' paradise now, with so many diverse locations, within just a few miles of each other." – Location Manager Adam Richards.

Heading to the cinema this week to catch Amma Asante's celebrated second feature Belle? While you're there, look out for the London landmarks that help make up the perfectly rendered period setting.

Inspired by an 18th Century painting, Belle is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle - the mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy officer raised by his uncle Lord Mansfield at London's Kenwood House. From Chiswick to Bedford Square, via a number of Greenwich sights, the production made use of the wealth of period locations in the capital to reconstruct it as it would have been in the 1700s.

Telling the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle

Offering insight into rarely told history of race relations and slavery in Britain, Belle tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle whose mother was Maria Belle, an African slave, and father was John Lindsay, a British Admiral.

Lindsay arranged for his daughter to be raised by his uncle, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, at his home in Hampstead. There she grew up alongside his other great niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray, and the two women are featured together in the painting that inspires the film. 

Mansfield oversaw the Zong massacre trials that helped lay the groundwork for Britain's abolition of the African slave trade. The trial forms the backdrop to the film, providing a powerful lesson in social history as well as a moving story about Dido Belle and the prejudice she experienced.

Finding the perfect locations

With such a powerful true story as the basis for Belle, Location Manager Adam Richards had his work cut out to ensure that the film could convincingly render the world of 18th Century upper class London. But he relished the task, saying: 

"Working on Belle was a real joy. We filmed in some of the most beautiful houses and buildings in and around London (Syon, West Wycombe, Osterley, the Rangers House, Middle Temple) as well as filming street scenes in Bedford Square."

The production made use of a variety of locations across London to create the perfect setting:

  • Chiswick House and Grounds became Vauxhall Pleasure gardens, as well as providing some internal shots as Kenwood house corridors and the artist studio
  • The Rangers House, Blackheath provided the perfect look for Lord Ashford's house. Lord Ashford's son Oliver is a young man intended for a match with Lady Elizabeth Murray, but enamoured by Dido.
  • The Rose Garden, Greenwich Park is the beautiful setting for Lord Ashford's garden
  • Old Royal Naval College offered a variety of uses, with the outside acting as the Royal Exchange Courtyard and grand London Streets, and the inside standing in for Lloyds of London Coffee House as well as a street along which the Mansfield Carriage travels.
  • Yale University Press, Bedford Square is neighbouring Bloomsbury Square
  • The Great Hall, Middle Temple Hall, where the production shot with 100 extras, became Westminster Hall.

Throughout the shoot, Richards says, "across the board, everyone was so helpful and accommodating." Concluding, as this list testifies, "London really is a filmmakers' paradise now, with so many diverse locations, within just a few miles of each other".

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