The Imaginary Village

Lacock Red Lion We’re in the Wiltshire village of Lacock, owned and preserved, sort of, by the National Trust. Well, no visible tv aerials or satellite dishes are allowed. The village has been the location for many films and tv series set in earlier times.

They shot the exteriors for Pride and Prejudice in the High Street here. You remember the scene where the sisters go to buy their ribbons at the milliner’s? That’s the shop over there. Then it was dressed with fashionable nineteenth-century items – and they encounter the officers coming down the street looking very smart in their scarlet uniforms: Mr. Denny and his friend, Mr. Wickham. What you don’t see is any tarmac – that was all covered with sand and wood chippings. It takes a lot of work getting back to Jane Austen’s time. People would complain if there were anachronistic trappings visible. So they cover the double yellow lines with dirt or something, or keep them carefully out of shot.

Nor do you see the dozens of technicians, crew, electricians, make-up artists, all off camera, ready to do their bit to make the make-believe believable. It’s a weird sanitized reality. But that’s not the point. It’s the story that matters, the loves and hates, the gossip, the truths of the human heart. Much easier to get sucked into the world of the film, just as long as it doesn’t jar.

When they were making Emma, the Kate Beckinsale version, they closed off Church Street. There was a scene where they hoisted a piano into an upstairs room. Well, not a real piano, just a box. You imagined that there was a bunch of people hauling it up on a rope and pulley, but in reality they used a crane – which of course you didn’t see.

With film-making, things go wrong or have to be reset for another take. Sometimes you’re waiting for someone to turn up, or they need a rehearsal. There seems to be far too much hanging about in real life. I prefer my reality edited. Given how long it takes to make a film, it’s a blessing that it can be cut down to two hours or less.

Oh, in front of the Red Lion, there are some people hanging about like a bunch of extras. It looks like their tourist coach has broken down and they’ve been herded off the bus, and are having to wait while it gets fixed.

Just like the time when my bus home from school – it was a trolley-bus – they had these two arms on the top connected to a pair of overhead electric wires. Trouble was, they were frequently coming off. One day the trolleybus went round the Beehive pub corner and lost contact when crossing the ‘points’. So we had to get off and wait while the conductor used this great long bamboo pole with a hook on the end for re-engaging the arm, so that we could continue our journey.

But no overhead wires here – and no triple-decker buses either. Remember that crazy bus in the Harry Potter movies? Hogwarts school was here – well, part of it. In the Abbey cloisters, that room with the huge cauldron. I was quite young when the Harry Potter books appeared, year after year. I used to queue up in the street until midnight, waiting for the book to go on sale. There was quite a cameradie with those queuing – well, we all had a similar interest in the goings on at Hogwarts, so we were talking to each other, speculating about what the next book would be about – and of course, we were way off – none of us could imagine the story the way JK Rowling did.

Lacock Abbey Cauldron

Oh, I think the coach is mended now, they’re all getting on board. I wonder what they made of Lacock. It’s just an ordinary village, a place where people live. It’s not magical, nor is it the nineteenth century here. No one is wearing crinolines or pointed hats, or driving a barouche-landau.

I suppose each visitor makes sense of their visit in their own way – connecting with a fictional past, or a fantasy reality, an escape from their everyday lives. They leave with their memories, connections made, scenes identified and ticked off. When they see Lacock in another movie, they’ll have a sense of recognition: “I’ve been there.” Or maybe there were simply here on a guided tour and knew nothing of its literary connections; it’s just “that place where the coach broke down and we had to wait.”

© 2017 Peter Young


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