It’s not unusual that a film by one of Spain’s top directors, Alejandro Almenábar, should be filmed in Spain; what is unusual is that it stars Nicole Kidman, was produced by Tom Cruise and filmed in English.
The action supposedly takes place on the island of Jersey, although the haunted house, which is the true star of the film, is in fact in Cantabria.
The house in question is the Palacio de los Hornillos at Las Fraguas in the Arenas de Iguña region of central Cantabria, and it was chosen after permission was refused to use a house in Jersey itself, where the natives apparently don’t like to mention the war, during which some of them were reportedly somewhat accommodating with the occupying Nazi forces.
Almenábar looked at about a 100 houses in the UK before finally finding something typically English in the green, northern belt of Spain.
The house was in fact constructed in ‘the English style,’ as all the local guide books will tell you, and was designed by an English architect, Selden Wornum, and built between 1899 and 1904.
It was an eventful day; driving up from La Rioja we were stopped in the early morning by a pair of Guardia Civils, which freaked Thelma out completely, but luck was on our side and we travelled on.
Finding Las Fraguas wasn’t easy as it has resisted the advances of modern road signage but not the charms of Ronda, our GPS system, so named because we started using her on last year’s trip in Ronda, Malaga, and because every time we need her we start singing the old Beach Boys song ‘Help me Rhonda’.
When we arrived we checked out the Ocho Hermanas hotel and on seeing a book about The Others in reception, which was in fact the script of the film, decided to check in, which was a good idea, as the owner turned out to be very knowledgeable, informing us that the spooky house was inhabited not by a ghost but by a Duke.
The Duke’s family also apparently built (or had built) a mini Parthenon just across the road.
The house is not open to the public but is easily seen from the road and very photographable, and the spookiness is alleviated by a herd of very placid white cows and a lake. After an unsuccessful lunch at a nearby posh hotel, where the concept of service has been cleverly inverted, we went for a stroll around the fields and villages and were surprised by a mare and her foal galloping along the road pursued by two yapping inappropriate and ineffective sheep dogs.
Those who wouldn’t mind snoozing with Nicole Kidman, or at least spending some time in the same bed (though not at the same time) could do worse than stay at the El Jardín de Carrejo, an example of the trend in rural accommodation that has become so popular now in Spain, and where Kidman was lodged during filming.
According to Isabel, one of the hotel’s owners: “Nicole stayed in our hotel, which was especially dedicated to her team and to her, including her personal trainer, personal assistant and cook. Although we were ready for her in September 2000, an injury to her leg delayed her appearance here until mid October.
She lodged at the hotel for 20 days, during which time she took over the hotel, using the ground floor gym, dining room and offices, and on the first floor taking up each room for massages, changing room and her own bedroom (number 5).
The second floor was used by her staff”.
Almenábar spent 4 months studying English in London so that he could charm Kidman and the 2 English kids whose performances really make the film.
A special delight in the film is Eric Sykes’s performance, a return to Spain for him after the making in Almeria of ‘Shalako’ with Sean Connery in 1968, and a pleasant surprise to those of us who had thought he must surely be dead, (don’t worry; in the film, he is!)
Kidman’s character is called Grace, which is Almenábar’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock, whose favourite actress was Grace Kelly. Almenábar’s admiration of Hitchcock led him to emulate the maestro’s custom of making a brief appearance in his own film. He appears as a corpse in one of the photos of dead people (the one with three men lying on a bed). In fact the other two were his flat-mates in real life.
In the film Kidman lives in a large house with her children, who suffer from a rare disease called ‘xeroderma pigmentosum,’ which makes them allergic to light. Anyway, that’s her alibi.
The music that Kidman hears playing is Chopin’s Waltz Number 9 in A flat.
Our Eight Sisters host pointed out the existence of a redwood forest en route to Comillas, on the coast, the following day; so that’s a must.