THE location manager of the new big screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma has described the agonising process of transforming a stately home in Sussex and other locations for a new film version of the classic book.

Many of the film’s exteriors were filmed in Firle, where artists spent weeks taking the village back to the early 19th century.

Firle Place near Lewes was chosen as the location for the home, Hartfield, of the bored matchmaker, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, while Wilton House in Salisbury provided the interiors and exteriors for Mr Knightley’s Donwell Abbey.

Helene Lenszner said: “We wanted Hartfield to be a beautiful house but not an austere house, a beautiful house verging on pretty, not frothy, not silly but a pretty house in that period.

“It’s meant to be the nicest house in the village or in the surrounding area, the minute you see it you must be like ‘such a lovely house, of course you’d want to live there’.

“We scouted Firle and it was amazing and perfect, we walked in the door and how could we not come here?

“Wilton is renowned as the most beautiful house in England and no location manager doesn’t know Wilton but we looked at a lot of options for Donwell Abbey.

“We thought is it a bit too beautiful? It’s so full of riches, we wondered whether it was too much splendour and wealth but then it was irresistible and it seemed rather silly that you shouldn’t go for it.”

Author Eleanor Catton, who wrote the screenplay, recalled visiting the location at Firle during filming and said: “It was such an exciting film in that there were no sets at all, everything was on location and it was just beautiful.

“When we were filming there it was lambing season and when you’re driving up from the unit base to the set it was almost like a music video for a very strange band or something.

“You would come up to the field and there were all these lambs literally coming into the world right around you and these sheep lying down on the ground and you could see the lambs being born and these fields of daffodils.”

The cast and crew fell in love with the Regency property.

Jane Austen’s tale of misguided matchmaking is set in the fictional village of Highbury in early 19th-century England.

That means it is perfectly reimagined in Firle Place, a Tudor stately home and garden remodelled in the 18th century, although some minor renovations were needed before filming began.

Firle Place is the family seat of Henry Nicholas Gage, 8th Viscount Gage, whose family have owned the land at Firle since acquiring it from the Levett family in the 15th century.

Another site used was at Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds.

Helene Lenszner said: “Lower Slaughter, devoid of any dressing, is a very exceptionally maintained and un-modernised village, you’re not allowed to have lights outside your house, there are not street lamps, it’s virtually as was, people have very muted coloured window frames.

“It’s not exactly period but it’s pretty much period. If you went there with a film with no money and you could do nothing you could do a period film there but if you’re aiming for something wonderful looking, you would want to age down some of the woodwork, as our department did, repaint it, age it, so it’s just the right colours and there’s no little white window frames that jump out at you.

“With no work it’s amazing but with some work it’s just more authentic looking for our period.

“There were two or three weeks of art department work that went into making it, you had to have the whole village on side.”

She added: “People live there because it’s beautifully quiet and unchanged, and there was an influx of 150 people, 50 in trucks, closing the village to traffic, a whole market set up on the village green, we are a huge imposition, it’s a big deal to turn up with a film the scale of Emma.

“It’s not a mega film in the scheme of modern £150 million budget films but in a village like that it’s a lot, there were a lot of us, a huge amount of kit and 150 people. And in a village like that you really notice it. The people were amazing, completely amazing.”

Actress Anya Taylor-Joy said playing Emma was a joy.

The actress, best known for her roles in The Witch, Split and Peaky Blinders, appears alongside Bill Nighy, Miranda Hart and Johnny Flynn.

She said: “Emma is very different - I think all of my characters are very different but Emma is particularly on the other end of the spectrum in terms of how loud and how out there she is. But it was just such a joy, I loved it. She’s my little monster.”

  • Emma is released in UK cinemas today.