Malmesbury estate transformed into French hospital for BBC's WWI drama

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Oona Chaplin in a scene from BBC TV drama Crimson Field Oona Chaplin in a scene from BBC TV drama Crimson Field

A country estate near Malmesbury was turned in to a makeshift fictional hospital for 15 weeks while filming took place for the BBC’s First World War hospital drama The Crimson Field.

The drama brought the likes of Oona Chaplin - Charlie Chaplin’s grandaughter- and actress Suranne Jones, who has starred in Coronation Street and Harley Street), to the set at Charlton Park last year.

It is due to be screened in April, although no date has been finalised.

Previously called The Ark, The Crimson Field depicts the lives of medics and patients at a hospital in France during the First World War.

Cristina Casali, production designer, explained how the Charlton Park estate was transformed with a makeshift road created from locally quarried stone as well as a field of corn that was planted to help set the scene.

An allotment, similar to the one already in place at Charlton Park, was set up on the set growing beans, artichokes and cabbages, all coordinated by the estate’s gardeners to assist with the production.

“The whole drama is based in one part of northern France in a little fishing village called Etaples,” she said.

“It is near to a seaside town called Le Touquet which has a pine forest within it.

“We were looking for a field that looked like it was by the sea and with pine trees and anything that was interesting about it.

“We really looked everywhere and we thought the Bath or Bristol area would be good so we had that area as our looking point to start with.

“But nothing, nothing, nothing, until we saw Charlton Park, which has got an amazing forest with lovely pine trees; they are really beautiful.

“Everyone was so nice at Charlton Park; they were so warm and friendly, and so helpful.

“We needed a road and Robin (Robin Aird, Charlton Park farm manager) quarried stones from the estate and laid a massive road for us.

“It was a lovely sandy colour and really helped to bed the site.”

The set, where 90 per cent of filming took place, was made up of tents and wooden huts for the hospital, operating theatre, sleeping accommodation, offices and laundry.

Ms Casali said: “The whole look of the site had to look like it was just made up, like a frontier town.

“Everything was made of the same wood that had all aged the same.

“For me Charlton Park was perfect. I have never met a more positive bunch of people as we have there.”

Stars of the show stayed at various hotels including Cotswold Water Park, near Ashton Keynes, and used Malmesbury for shopping and for meetings.

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