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11:00 Tuesday 01 January 2013  Written by Nicola Hine

Dustin Hoffman film Quartet starring Hedsor House out today

Dame Maggie Smith and comedian Billy Connolly are among the stars of new British film Quartet
Dame Maggie Smith and comedian Billy Connolly are among the stars of new British film Quartet

Audiences across the world have been enchanted by Berkshire's Highclere Castle since it rose to fame as the home of TV series Downton Abbey.

Now Taplow's Hedsor House looks set to enjoy similar screen glory as Beecham House; the setting of new British film Quartet.

Out in cinemas today, the film's stars include Downton's own Dame Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Sheridan Smith, Pauline Collins and Sir Tom Courtenay.

Hamish Shephard, whose family owns the private estate off Heathfield Road, said they couldn't be happier with the finished product.

"We're very proud to have Hedsor put on the map in such a lovely light," he said.

"Seeing the result makes all the hard work well worth it."

Beecham House is a retirement home for opera singers, whose residents are preparing for their annual fundraising concert when a familiar face moves in and sends their plans awry.

Quartet is based on a play by Sir Ronald Harwood and is the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman.

The first real indication Hedsor could become involved in the film came when the American actor stopped by the house for a visit in early summer 2011.

"I got home and sitting in the kitchen was Dustin having a cup of tea with my parents and brother," Hamish said.

Downton Abbey star Dame Maggie Smith inside Hedsor House
Downton Abbey star Dame Maggie Smith inside Hedsor House

The family then faced a two-month wait before they found out the house had been chosen to be Beecham.

But they also had logistical considerations of their own as Hedsor operates full-time as a venue for weddings, conferences and private functions.

"We had something like 25 events on during the filming," explained Hamish, whose grandparents were given Hedsor as a wedding present in 1934.

"The house had to be perfect and the film crew stuck to that and did an incredible job. It would be chaos on Friday night and then we'd get back 24 hours later and it would be the most perfect wedding setting."

Achieving this meant dragging every single spotlight, camera and crew member out of the building before each event and replacing them all when it was over.

"The second the last guest left the whole film army would come back," Hamish said.

Filming itself took place at the house, which was named Event Venue of The Year at the Eventia Awards 2012, between August and November 2011.

One particular challenge was cleaning up after the jungle-themed music festival Hedsor 2011, which took place in the September.

As soon as it ended the stage, campfire and giant model rhino had to be shifted ready for Maggie Smith's character to play croquet on the same lawn 24 hours later.

Billy Connolly and director Dustin Hoffman prepare for a stairlift scene
Billy Connolly and director Dustin Hoffman prepare for a stairlift scene

Physical changes inside the house included re-wallpapering rooms and installing a working stairlift.

"Billy Connolly spent a few days whizzing up and down on it. I don't know what my grandparents would think of that," Hamish laughed.

He spent a lot of time on set while Quartet was being made and described the atmosphere as 'amazing', praising the cast including the extras; many of whom are musicians in real life.

"During breaks in the filming they would all be playing music and Dustin Hoffman would be jamming and it was lovely," Hamish said.

But his family's involvement didn't end at lending the film crew their estate.

"My brothers and I are in the film. We're leading stars for about 0.001 seconds. But I don't think I can put Hollywood actor on my CV just yet," he joked.

Choosing Hedsor as the home for Quartet was the responsibility of production designer Andrew McAlpine and his team, who scouted for locations near London, where many of the cast and crew live.

"Film-making is a lot about practicality and the function of being able to make the film with enough space to get a camera and a crew and a group of people in," he explained.

Hedsor House
Hedsor House

"It was open enough for the camera to be able to see the house but it had beautiful trees around it."

But the BAFTA Award-winner added the logistical challenges which surround film-making are huge, and the fact Hedsor is a working events venue made things tricky at times.

"Every weekend we had to take out everything we'd put into the house because we had to turn it back into what the wedding couples had seen originally," he said.

Mr McAlpine believes the film will be a great success, propelling Hedsor to a new level of fame. "Like Downton Abbey it will be a place that people can visit," he said.

"People will want to know 'where is that place and can I go to it?'"

Hedsor House is offering a limited number of tickets to two open days where visitors can explore the building and grounds and learn more about the making of Quartet.

They are due to take place on Sunday, January 20 and Sunday, February 17, from 11-4pm.

Minimum donations for tickets are £8 for adults and £4 for under 16s. Entry is free for under fives.

All profits will go to Hedsor Church (St Nicholas') which also features in Quartet.

Visit for details.

Click here for footage from last month's UK premiere in London and watch a trailer for the film here. You can also scroll through a gallery of photos taken during filming here.

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