Steven Knight’s radical reinvention of A Christmas Carol meant rethinking everything about Dickens’ festive fable – including where it was filmed.
According to Mark Walledge, supervising locations manager on the production, a key aim was to “reflect the darker vision” of the Peaky Blinders creator’s adaptation.
“Working closely with Sonja Klaus, the production designer, we focussed on locations with a grittier feel,” Mark tells RadioTimes.com. “We looked for locations where the shadows were alive – not places for rosy-cheeked cherubs! Despite the snow effects, the edginess is always apparent.”
About that snow: although there’s a conspicuous lack of traditional, Victorian Christmas card-style yuletide scenes in the drama, the team still needed plenty of the white stuff.
“Snow was our main challenge,” says Mark. “It was required at every site, meaning additional prep and clean-up wherever we went. Convincing the locals and relevant authorities that they wouldn’t be wading through drifts long after we’d gone was certainly interesting…”
Pushed to choose a favourite location, Mark opts for Rainham Hall in Havering. “It’s a National Trust gem,” he says. “And thanks to the kind people of Rainham, who agreed to allow us to close one of the main roads through the town for three days, we established the Georgian mansion as Scrooge’s home – with the obligatory lashings of snow!”
Turning back the clock to the Victorian era involves less physical redressing than would have been the case a few years ago. “As with most shows these days, ever-improving visual effects technology means far fewer physical cover-ups on location,” says Mark. “Obviously the locations team are responsible for ensuring clearance of any modern cars and street signs, etc, but along with traditional art department embellishments, the VFX guys create a significant amount of magic.
“The schedule for A Christmas Carol was certainly challenging for the whole locations team, who worked tirelessly to achieve the brilliant results viewers will see on screen,” says Mark. “Without them, I would have fallen under the weight of Marley’s chains!”
Major locations used in the shoot include:
Scrooge’s office / London streets
The location for Scrooge and Marley Investments, plus various other London street scenes, was Middle Temple Lane, which runs between Inner Temple and Middle Temple (two of the four Inns of Court, aka the place with all the barristers) in the City of London. Charles Dickens featured the Temple area in several of his books, including A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations – and if he came back to do a little haunting of his own, he’d find parts of it largely unchanged since his day.
Marley’s grave / Christmas streets
The opening scene of the mini-series, in which Jacob Marley is woken from his less-than eternal sleep, was filmed in the churchyard at St John-at-Hampstead in London. And the old miser is in good company: notable individuals buried in the churchyard include the painter John Constable, the satirist Peter Cook, 50s film star Kay Kendall, former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell and Jack, Peter and Michael Llewelyn Davies – JM Barrie’s inspirations for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.
Bob Cratchit’s house / London streets
Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick is one of the finest examples of medieval courtyard architecture in England. Charles Dickens himself was a visitor, while other famous admirers included Oscar Wilde and George V. Doubling here as the Cratchit family home, plus numerous London streets, the location has been used extensively for film and television productions, including the classic 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, ITV’s Moll Flanders and the 2007 Doctor Who story The Shakespeare Code.
Rainham Hall in Havering, East London, stood in for Scrooge’s less than homely homestead. Built in 1729 for John Harle, a sea captain and merchant, the Grade II listed, three-storey Georgian house is now owned by the National Trust. This year’s Christmas events include wreath making and mince pie baking – but no ghosts (as far as we know).
Stonor Park, Henley, which doubled for scenes set during Scrooge’s school days, has been the ancestral seat of the Stonor family for more than 800 years. Nestling in the Chiltern Hills near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, the house – which is open to the public – was built on the site of a prehistoric stone circle, or henge, the remains of which can still be seen. Stonor Park’s previous film and TV appearances include Bond classic The Living Daylights, the 1989 film of Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World and the most recent series of Endeavour.
To capture a slice of authentic Victorian industry, a film crew travelled to the Queen Street Mill in Burnley, Lancashire. A Grade I listed building, it was built in 1894 for the Queen Street manufacturing Company, and closed for business in 1982. Now a museum, it contains the world’s only surviving operational steam-driven engine shed.
A Christmas Carol begins on Sunday 22nd December at 9pm on BBC One and continues on Monday 23rd at 9:05pm and 9pm on Christmas Eve