Rye has some stellar connections to the arts, and literature in particular: Henry James resided at Lamb House (now owned by the National Trust) and wrote his later novels such as The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl there. Radclyffe Hall, best known for the 1928 lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness (written, she said, to “put my pen at the service of some of the most misunderstood people in the world”), lived on the High Street.
From 1918, Lamb House was home to Hall’s contemporary, EF Benson, author of the Mapp & Lucia novels, which are partly set in Rye, renamed Tilling in the books. Scheming, bitching, revenge, snobbery, humiliation and one-upmanship are the novels’ quintessentially British themes, as Benson lambasts the social mores of the day with a viciousness that is only softened by the hilarity of it all.
Rye is so little changed that it is immediately possible to imagine the characters bustling around town: Mr and Mrs Wyse’s Rolls-Royce edging, reversing and doing a bit more edging around the corner from Porpoise Street (Rye’s Mermaid Street) to get to Mallards (Lamb House); the frenemies trooping into Mallards for one of Lucia’s dreadfully enduring evenings of ‘un po’ di musica’ at the piano; the solemn service given at the church for the missing-presumed-dead Mapp and Lucia, washed away in a flood on top of a kitchen table; and Lucia and Georgie holed up at the Trader’s Arms hotel (actually the Hope Anchor), tucked up in bed in adjoining rooms, each contemplating the horror that the other might want to marry them.
The BBC has filmed a new version of Mapp & Lucia in Rye, which was shown over Christmas 2014. It stars Anna Chancellor as the self-important Lucia, Miranda Richardson as busybody Miss Mapp, Mark Gatiss as golf-obsessed Major Benjy and Steve Pemberton (who also adapted the script) as Georgie, Lucia’s faithful accomplice.
We were very happy to host some of the crew at Bee Cottage during the filming.
Aside from its own literary traditions, Rye and nearby Camber Sands are popular spots for filming, which is how George Clooney and Matt Damon came to be spotted eating fish and chips in the pub while making Monuments Men (they stayed at the George Hotel). Strand Quay was used for night-time scenes and Camber Sands stood in for the Normandy Beach where the Monuments Men landed.
Summer 2014 saw the filming of Mr. Holmes; based on the 2005 novel by Mitch Cullen, its plot sees an elderly Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen), now retired to East Sussex, reflecting back on his last case. Laura Linney, who plays his housekeeper Mrs Munro, stayed at Bee Cottage during filming.