It occasionally surprises even the most ardent outdoor adventurer, but Britain is capable of some absurdly pleasant summer weather when the powers that be decide it should be so. It’s that which the Summer Nights Outdoor Film Festival aims to capitalise on, travelling across England over the duration of the summer, stopping at thirteen beautiful heritage sites to screen blockbuster hits and old classics.
Starting on 14th July with a screening of the classic musical Grease at the RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, the Summer Nights Film Festival will then travel across all manor (sorry) of beautiful country locations in England, finishing at the RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate on the 16th September with a screening of Top Gun; the film that made Tom Cruise into an A-list star.
Some of the particular cinematic highlights they'll be screening this year include the ‘80s cultural touchstone Back to the Future, Oscar-winning musical La La Land, and Christopher Nolan’s trilogy-capping blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises.
Although the selection tends towards the mainstream, there’s still a considerable amount of variety with, for example, Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire screening La La Land on Friday 18th August followed by Top Gun the following night; a toe-tapping jazz musical followed by that most ‘80s of American action films. The festival has an inclusive attitude too, with subtitled screenings for the hard-of-hearing added this year.
Other films you can catch across the summer are Pretty Woman, Bridget Jones' Baby, The Legend of Tarzan, Dirty Dancing, Fantastic Beasts, Mamma Mia, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Moulin Rouge, Jurassic Park, Ghost, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Blues Brothers and Footloose: all within the stunning grounds of old English heritage.
Organised by QUAD, the main centre for arts and film in Derby, the festival initially began as a handful of one-off screenings in heritage locations in Derby and the surrounding county. With its unexpected success, it grew year-on-year adding venues and films to its programme.
In its current guise it’s more like a touring summer celebration of film and the English countryside; a communal celebration of the grandeur and history that surrounds much of this country’s greenery. Using an inflatable twelve-metre screen, the thirteen heritage locations at which Summer Nights stops at are grouped mostly within the Midlands and the North, but there are also detours to the aforementioned RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey and to Blickling Estate in Norfolk.
Making these historical buildings relevant for new generations is essential in many ways for their continued survival. Their part in British and English history is long and storied, and not always positive. An essential part of this island is bound up with the displays of wealth, status, and power that sits behind their construction. By combining with mainstream media such as cinema, these places become more accessible and participatory for those whose interests don’t necessarily lie in visiting places of historical interest.
Some of the more interesting venues that the festival stops by include Wollaton Hall in Nottingham (in the image above) and Nostell in Yorkshire. The former is a beautiful Elizabethan manor house, constructed the same year Shakespeare debuted in London; currently its grounds house the Nottingham Industrial Revolution museum and Natural History museum, near the centre of the city. The latter is originally a 12th century Augustinian Priory which, after Henry VIII’s reformation, was eventually sold to the Winn family, who built the area up into what it is today.
Then there’s Attingham Park in Shropshire: a 17th century stately home built up over the years by the Berwick family, whose fortunes rose and fell with the family over the years until it was handed over to the National Trust. With screenings of La La Land and Breakfast at Tiffany’s there in early September it’s sure to bring a different crowd of people to engage with the heritage site in a completely new way.
Tickets are £13 for adults, £9 for under 12's, and free for under 5's. Discounted tickets are available for advance group bookings of eight or more people. For more information or to book tickets, please call the QUAD Box Office on (01332) 290606 or go to the Summer Night's Outdoor Film Festival website.
For families looking to make the most of a summer night out there is the option of a handmade picnic hamper too, though there’s nothing to stop you from bringing your own. Underneath the stars in the mild summer, this is a quintessentially English experience; a stately countryside manor and a picnic, with a film to boot. One can only hope the weather isn’t quintessentially English!