Lights, Camera, Action ...


In 1848, William Makepeace Thackery published an insightful caricature of  English society in the early 1800s.  The novel was released in serial form under the title: "Vanity Fair, a novel without a hero". 

Searching for authenticity, the producers of the recently released film version of Vanity Fair sought locations that would provide a faithful replication of Regency London.  Little wonder that Bath,  England's Georgian masterpiece was selected for this starring role.

With an abundance of classic architecture, Bath has attracted film-makers for years.  Having said that, Vanity Fair, in June 2003, was unquestionably the largest, most complex filming ever undertaken in the city.

Great Pulteney Street, is the grandest Georgian Boulevard in all of Europe and the personification of 19th century England.   The producers populated this magnificent stage with 300 local extras and 18 horse-drawn carriages and wagons.  All the while, a crew of 150 technicians, artists and craftsmen were busily applying their crafts and skills behind the scenes.  At 1000 yards in length, Great Pulteney Street offered director Mira Nair a magnificent  backdrop and the added luxury of filming in a full 360 degrees.

Great Pulteney street is even faithful to the storyline of Becky Sharp’s arrival in London because of the location of Holburne Museum, a grand 18th century mansion at the east end of in relation to other buildings along the boulevard.

Over the years, Bath & North East Somerset Council have developed a reputation for film-friendliness.  So it was of no surprise that senior officials eagerly supported the filming of Vanity Fair.  The Bath Film Office, the city’s film commission, worked with the production throughout as the Council’s main point of contact and liaison. 

Creating the perfect environment for the filming to take place involved a major logistical exercise to remove all 21st century characteristics along Great Pulteney Street. 

After extensive consultation with local residents and businesses, modern street lights were permanently replaced with ones more in keeping with early gas lamps (courtesy of the production company).  Contemporary street furniture and signage were removed, houses had their windows and doors repainted.  

Elsewhere, huge production vehicles and livestock had to be stored and maintained.  Facilities were needed to feed 500 people, to costume and to apply make up the 300 extras used to create the hustle and bustle of 19th century London. 

Traffic and buses were rerouted to enable major roads to be closed.  As the street were emptied of modern vehicles, a coating of gravel and earth was applied to street  surfaces to give them an authentic look of the early 19th century.   Then as streets filled with extras, carriages and of course, the stars of Vanity Fair, the transformation to Regency times was magically complete.

Local residents were thrilled to see Great Pulteney Street looking so wonderful and four days of filming attracted a lot of visitors who are looking forward to seeing it unfold on the big screen. 

The film will provide added tourism interest to Bath’s well known sites such as the Roman Baths and heritage architecture.  Following the film’s release, visitors will be able to see the locations firsthand as they stroll down Gt. Pulteney Street.  They will be able to visit to the Holburne Museum and stay in the same hotels used by the cast and crew of Vanity Fair. 

A visit to Bath offers the opportunity to visit other well known film locations.  BBC’s version of Jane Austen’s novel, Persuasion, was filmed in the city.  Nearby, Dyrham Park featured as the grand house in The Remains of the Day, and Lacock Abbey became part of Hogwart’s School in the first and second Harry Potter films.   

Getting there

Moviegoers who wish to explore Bath firsthand will be pleased to learn that it  is easily accessible to the visitor.  From London's Paddington Station, the journey by rail takes only 80 minutes.  This is our favorite way to travel in Britain.  All one has to do is settle into a comfortable seat and watch the beautiful English countryside glide past your window .  

Britain's motorways are a visiting driver's greatest ally.  From London or Heathrow, just hop on the M4 and that's it.  Next stop - Bath.  If you plan to use Bath as a touring base, motorways to Bristol, Devon and Cornwall, Wales and the Heart of England will make your movements easy.

Exploring Bath.  

Visitors have enjoyed this city for over 2000 years.  The Celts were first.  Then came Romans attracted by the hot mineral springs that gave their town the name Aquae Sulis.  London society discovered Bath in the 1800s when it became fashionable to visit Bath and "take the waters".

This is a city that rewards visitors generously with treasures from its past.  One of the the most unique highlights of Bath is Pulteney Bridge.  It was built by Robert Adams ( c.1773) in the fashion of Andrea Palladio's design of the Ponte di Rialto.   Crossing the Avon, the bridge is a fitting entry to one of the grandest boulevards in all of Europe, its namesake of course, Gt. Pulteney St.

Bath has a vibrant cultural scene.  The Holburne Museum counts works by Gainsborough and Turner within its collections.  The Victoria Art Gallery is focused on British and European art from the 15th century to present times.  A wealth of other galleries specialize all genre of the arts from classic periods to contemporary chic.

Major sites to see include 15th century Bath Abbey, the Roman Baths and  Pump Room, Royal Crescent and the Assembly Rooms.  Shopping in Bath offers extraordinary quality in surprising quantity.  High Street names, designer brands, fine arts and antiques are all in good supply.

Discovery is an all important part of visiting Bath.  One becomes accustomed to pleasant surprises around the corner, at the crest of the hill, and ultimately, in fond recollections of visiting England's Georgian Masterpiece. 

We're grateful to Bath Tourism and Film commission for their assistance in presenting this article.

For more information on visiting Bath, please follow this link