First, we chose an actress. Sarine Sofair, with her pale skin and clear eyes, her long naturally-red hair, looks Victorian. More importantly, she is a brilliant actress. At CosProp, a costumiers in north London, we found petticoats, corsets, a dress in the blue-green shade that my heroine Anna Palmer always wears, plus a pair of her trademark battered brown leather boots.
Once we’d chosen a cloak, gloves and hat – we moved on to the jewellery room, in search of a ring and a pair of tortoiseshell combs.
I didn’t have a large budget but Lambeth council were incredibly helpful and agreed to allow us to film in several locations within Brockwell Hall, in Brockwell Park, in Herne Hill, south London. Sarine did her own make-up, in the car while were waiting for the caretaker to unlock the house, early in the morning. Once inside, she finished getting ready.
We started filming in a grand room on the ground floor of the house, representing the day room in Lake House, the fictitious asylum where Anna Palmer is incarcerated. The novel has a large cast of characters but the idea in the trailer was to conjure up the mood of The Painted Bridge, rather than try to represent it literally.
- We filmed in the basement, thanks to Paul Carter of Lambeth Council, who showed us the normally-hidden parts of the house. The basement in the trailer represents the treatment room in the novel, where Anna Palmer undergoes some of the barbaric treatments prevalent in the 1850s.
And we filmed in the grounds of the house. The disused fernery where visiting photographer Lucas St Clair takes his pictures, the walled yard where patients are allowed to take the air, and the large grounds where Anna meets Catherine Abse, the daughter of the owner of the asylum, are important parts of the world of the novel.
Making the trailer gave me a curious sense of the characters, the world I as a writer created, coming to life not only on the page – but in the here and now. At times, I felt I was with Anna Palmer, hearing the rustle of her skirts, seeing the soft white skin at the nape of her neck, the pain in her eyes as she tried to make sense of what was happening to her, and the events that had led her to Lake House. Her determination to get free.
We did another day’s filming representing other aspects of the novel and the trailer is now being edited. It’ll be up on the website soon!