Benedict tackles the Bard at stately home

    Benedict Cumberbatch (Richard III)

    Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch is due for a major screen return with the BBC, courtesy of a helping hand from some stunning backdrops at Penshurst Place.

    He appears as Richard III in the new Shakespeare Hollow Crown film series, which began on Saturday with a star-studded cast performing Henry VI Part I.

    The saga will see Cumberbatch reunited with former nemesis Andrew Scott, who played Holmes’s disturbed yet brilliant rival Moriarty, and now takes up the challenge of portraying the French King Louis XI.

    This involved Penshurst being transformed into the French royal court, with a host of famous names contributing to the series, including Dame Judi Dench, Hugh Bonneville, Michael Gambon and Sophie Okonedo.

    Ben Thomas, estate manager of Penshurst Place, explained it was quite fitting that the historic house near Tonbridge, which was briefly owned by Richard III in the 15th century, should play its part in the new series marking the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

    Mr Thomas said: “It has been great to have the BBC return after doing the first Hollow Crown series here.

    “The stars of the series, including Benedict Cumberbatch, were all extremely approachable.

    “But with this being a closed set, we were not allowed to take photos, although some members of staff tried to get some sneaky pictures.”

    As he explained, the filming involved a number of sequences including shots of Richard III, galloping on horseback through the grounds at Penshurst.

    For other sequences, production crews seeking to recreate the French court had to temporarily cover over the grand Kent property’s grass courtyard.

    The impressive interiors of Penshurst were also used for the Richard III, to whom Benedict Cumberbatch recently discovered he was distantly related to. Its emergence on our screens follows in the footsteps of a number of other TV and movie projects at the site.

    These include key TV drama series such as Wolf Hall, BBC2’s Armada:12 Days to Save England, as well as hit movie The Other Boleyn Girl starring Scarlett Johansson.

    Mr Thomas added: “Much of the filming was done in the 14th century Baron’s Hall. We’ve had quite a lot of experience of this kind of thing now, but it’s never easy, as you have to accommodate all the crews that are here. We’re glad that they have chosen us again though.”

    The Hollow Crown, Henry VI Part II continues this Saturday on BBC2 at 9pm.