Castle Howard: the Star of “Brideshead Revisited”

With due respect to the fine actors in the 2008 version of “Brideshead Revisited,” the hauntingly beautiful Castle Howard was the true star of the movie for me. Castle Howard is considered to be one of the grandest private residences in England today.

Brideshead novelist Evelyn Waugh visited it and is said to have used it as his inspiration for the ill-fated home in his book. I couldn’t take my eyes off it and was always peering around the actors, trying to get a better look at the walls and statues and staircases behind them.

Emma Thomson as Lady Marchmain
Emma Thomson as Lady Marchmain

Here are some of the photos I took from the movie of the castle, which is a castle in name only since it was never used for a military function. This great arch is just the beginning of the long drive to the castle:

When they drive over the hill, through the arch, Charles Ryder sees Castle Howard for the first time. “You live here?” he asks his friend Sebastian.

The Great Hall’s painted arches and dome are pretty spectacular for a family home:

Photo by David Foster
Photo by David Foster

Julia (Hayley Atwell) brings Charles (Matthew Goode) to Brideshead, where he’ll spend the summer with the family. Charles comes from a modest background and is quickly seduced by the family’s privileged lifestyle:

The home has its own private chapel. In this scene, Charles Ryder, who is an atheist, watches the devoutly Catholic family reciting their evening prayers:

The movie was so dark it was hard to get a good look at the chapel. I found an amazing photo gallery of the home by a photographer in the U.K. named David Foster, who was allowed access by the Howard family to these rooms. You can see much more detail of the chapel in his photo:

Foster also photographed a bedroom that is much clearer than anything I could get from the movie:

The turquoise drawing room:

The china landing:

The Long Gallery:

The Crimson Dining Room:

The Temple of the Four Winds, one of the two “garden buildings” on the estate, where the characters spent a lot of time hanging out and drinking:

The grounds are extensive. Castle Howard sits on 10,000 acres. When you go for a picnic in the garden, it’s best to bring servants to carry your refreshments for you:

The family gathers in the patriarch’s bedroom as he dies. Despite living “a life of sin” outside the Roman Catholic Church, he accepts a priest’s last rites and makes a sign of the cross. Evelyn Waugh said he witnessed something similar when one of his friends died, and the experience inspired him to write the novel (as a former English major, I feel obligated to share literary trivia like this with you):

The Great Fireplace:

By David Foster
By David Foster

The house looks so dark and cold in the movie that it almost gave me chills to look at (you can see it looks much brighter and warmer in the photos by Foster). Brideshead seemed more like a museum or old church than a home–which is somewhat the point of the film.

When the war starts, the British army takes over Brideshead. I’m always fascinated by how the great homes became military headquarters during war time. The movie shows the soldiers carefully covering all of the priceless paintings and statues as they took it over:

Ironically, Charles is stationed there during the war–the house he had once been willing to do almost anything to have:

The famous Atlas fountain:

The Rose Garden (another lovely photo by David Foster):

I love learning about the history of houses. Castle Howard took about 100 years to build, beginning in 1699, and the Howard family still lives there (much of the home is open to the public for tours, however). This picture of the home was published in 1819:

The 1981 Brideshead television miniseries that Jeremy Irons starred in was filmed at Castle Howard, too. Visit David Foster’s online gallery to see more photos.


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  1. Liz says

    Nothing makes me want a wool sweater like an English manor house.

  2. Melanie says

    And they say American’s are over the top in their McMansions :)

  3. says

    Julia – I’m thrilled by this post – this house is astounding. Thanks for pulling up some of the more vivid shots to better see the details of these rooms, like the chapel. Having read Brideshead (at least three times – and so many other Waugh novels – pure heaven) I’m ashamed to say I have not yet seen this most recent adaptation! It is going in my NetFlix queue this minute. I can’t wait!

    LaurelStreet’s last blog post..Meet my new best friend!

  4. says

    I am the same way about some houses in movies, I want to tell the actors to get out of my way so I can see the house better!

    Gorgeous little shack they have here, I think I will have to push this movie up farther in my netfix queue…

    Robin’s last blog post..It’s like LiteBrite, but with legs

  5. Jan says

    My Dh and I visited Castle Howard years ago — during a gorgeous spring day with oceans of daffodils waving in the breeze! It was his first “Stately Home” visit and tour — and he LOVED seeing the portraits of the famous and infamous Howards and their connections to King Henry VIII.

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

  6. says

    WOW – I have never heard of this house (or this movie)! Beautiful! I am going rent this one!
    Oh, I watched a great TV show about a house in a Minnesota (I think), and I would like to email you the details! It’s fascinating!

    Angela’s last blog post..Healthy Seven Layer Dip

  7. Kellye says

    Jan, I didn’t realize that it was the home of THOSE Howards. It’s absolutely gorgeous!

  8. Anonymous says

    Gorgeous. And if I’m not mistaken, Castle Howard was also featured in the Masterpiece Theater miniseries from the 1990s called “The Buccaneers.”

    The Duke’s home was Castle Howard, and there were lots of lovely Newport, Rhode Island homes featured as well. Might be a fun one for everyone to watch just to see the interiors!

  9. greenie says

    Be–U–Tee–Full! I know this from the PBS series (with Jeremy Irons). Awesome adaptation of the book. This house is stunning and the perfect setting for the story.

  10. Stephen says

    Castle Howard is a beautiful example of Baroque architecture. The exterior was also featured in the 1975 film “Barry Lyndon”. The recent feature film of “Brideshead Revisited,” however, was not compelling in its attempt to subvert what Evelyn Waugh intended and pales next to the original 1981 TV miniseries.

    The branch of the Howard family that resides here are distant cousins of the Howards (technically Fitzalan-Howards) who hold the dukedom of Norfolk, are still Catholic, and reside at Arundel Castle in the south of England, an actual medieval castle with Victorian upgrades. Arundel Castle has plausibly substituted for Windsor Castle in the 1994 film “The Madness of King George” and in the upcoming “The Young Victoria,” to be released later this year.

  11. Sara says

    I loved the kitchen in Hancock — before the refrigerator was thrown. I loved the windows and expansive counters and storage space.

  12. Bev says

    I live not far from the beautiful castle, and believe me, the drive up to it is truely amazing!!