Part of the history of Kenwood House in north London hits the big screen this week with the premiere of the film Belle.
The film, which opens on Friday, is inspired by the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and a slave woman named Maria, who spent her childhood years at the property in the care of her great-uncle Lord Mansfield (played by Tom Wilkinson) in the second half of the 18th century.
The idea for film was apparently sparked when Belle‘s writer Misan Sagay saw a painting of Dido which hangs at Scone Palace in Scotland (a copy of the painting, which was formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany but is now unattributed, can be seen hanging in the Housekeeper’s Room at Kenwood).
Lauren Houlistan, English Heritage senior curator, says Dido grew up at Kenwood from about the age of five (about 1766) and seemed to have been considered one of the family.
She says that while Lord Mansfield was “very fond of her”, Dido’s position was, however, “lower than that of her white, legitimate cousin, Elizabeth – Dido was given a smaller allowance and is noted as only joining visitors after dinner”. Dido is known to have managed the dairy at Kenwood in 1779 and was described as “superintendent” over the daily and poultry yard (for more on Dido’s extraordinary life, see our earlier post here).
Kenwood House was undergoing restoration when the film was being made so scenes for the film set in the house were shot at various other English Heritage properties including Chiswick House and the Ranger’s House in Greenwich.
WHERE: Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Golders Green and Archway/nearest train stations are Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood/.
PICTURE: Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Dido Elizabeth Belle and Sarah Gadon Lady Elizabeth Murray and in Belle. © Twentieth Century Fox.