The beautiful grounds of Walmer Castle in Kent will provide a magical background for next Wednesday’s ‘pop-up cinema’ screening of Robert Altman’s film Gosford Park (organized by The Nomad Cinema) which I am hoping to get to. Starring the cream of British talent (including my personal favourite Charles Dance) the 2001 film also starred Dame Maggie Smith who is returning to our TV screens this autumn in the eagerly awaited second series of ITV’s ratings busting Downton Abbey by Julian Fellowes in which she plays the indomitable Dowager Countess of Grantham.
Last year’s first series was the most successful British period drama since Brideshead Revisited (starring another personal favourite Jeremy Irons) back in 1981 with ratings exceeding 10 million viewers in the UK and 6 million in the USA.
Great films in great locations – al fresco and indoors – is Nomad’s remit, and English Heritage’s Walmer Castle is certainly one of Kent’s great locations. Built during the reign of King Henry VIII, it was originally designed as part of a chain of coastal artillery defences known as the ‘Tudor Rose’ castles because of their distinctive shape. Another of these castles, Deal, is just a mile along the coast.
Walmer Castle evolved into the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The Duke of Wellington held the post for 23 years and enjoyed his time spent at the castle and in recent years Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother made regular visits to the castle. The armchair in which Wellington died and an original pair of ‘Wellington boots’ along with some of the rooms used by the Queen Mother are among the highlights.
The Kent coast is known as ‘The Defensive Coast’ . From the great Roman fort at Richborough and the imposing medieval cliff-top ‘Lock and Key of the Kingdom’ of Dover Castle, to Henry VIII’s Tudor Rose fortresses. From the 74 Martello Towers surviving from the string built along the south coast during the Napoleonic Wars to the region’s 20th Century wartime defences, including the extraordinary Maunsell forts built on the ‘Shivering Sands’ off the coast at Whitstable to protect the Thames Estuary, it is a fascinating area to explore.
Sitting in Walmer Castle’s beautiful gardens next week, hopefully on a balmy evening, enjoying Charles Dance with extra-long headphones and a chilled glass of wine, it will all seem a very long way from the castle’s original defensive purpose. Yet the atmosphere will be quintessentially English in a different sort of way, highlighting the glorious gardens, stately residences and fascinating social history that so many visitors to the South East come to enjoy. Cheers!