Our story begins with me sitting in a dark movie theater, large popcorn and Junior Mints in hand, excitedly awaiting directress Sofia Coppola’s latest film to grace the screen. Like most of you, I’ve seen the trailer and believe Marie Antoinette to be a cinematic setting treasure so I was hoping The Beguiled would be an ocular delight of equal proportions. In a more stripped down and war-torn sort of way, it was just as spectacular visually. The plantation home it was filmed in left me wanting more so this weekend I went right down the rabbit hole of exploring this historic delight via the internet. Madewood Plantation House has all the trappings of a gorgeous Antebellum dwelling; a beguiling past, a cemetery that won’t rest in peace and exquisite interiors.
Coppola and her cast used Madewood, a Greek-revival style property built in 1846 as a sugarcane plantation, to tell a Civil War period piece that takes place in Virginia. Madewood’s Ionic columned facade greets you in the opening scenes, Spanish moss floating in the bayou breeze and you’re swept into the South. An hour’s distance from New Orleans, Southern charm reigns supreme at Madewood, one of the first masterpieces built by notable architect Henry Howard. Now a Bed & Breakfast, guests can experience all its splendor with beautifully appointed rooms, traditional Louisiana cuisine and rich history around every corner.
A Step Back in Time
Taking 8 years to build (1840-48), Madewood stood out among its neighboring plantations. Its building was commissioned by Thomas Pugh, a young sugarcane planter with 10,000 acres of working farm land, a wife and 16 children. Pugh himself would only get to enjoy his manor home for four years, passing away in 1852 from yellow fever. It is said that his wife Eliza kept Madewood from being destroyed during the Civil War by alerting a Union general that he and her deceased husband both had Masonic affiliation. The home was spared from looting but its sprawling lawn did serve as a Union field hospital.
The plantation was kept in the Pugh family until 1896 when it was sold to Leon Godchaux, a sugar magnate, for $30,000. Over the next few decades, ownership would change hands until the Marshall family purchased Madewood in 1964. Keith Marshall, a Rhodes Scholar and art historian, and his journalist wife Millie own and operate the charming bed & breakfast today.
A Step Inside
Madewood is virtually unrecognizable in The Beguiled. Now kept in meticulous shape, production had to plant dying and overgrown vegetation on the property for an accurate war-time portrayal. The parts of the 23-room home that were used for filming were the front lawn, dramatic entrance, kitchen and dining room.
During the eight years that it took to construct the Greek-revival beauty, most all materials used to build it were created on the plantation. The brick was made there and all interior woodwork was milled on-site, hence the name Madewood. Supporting local before its time! Striking features like cypress mantles painted to resemble marble flank the double parlor and cypress doors painted to look like oak grace the downstairs ballroom.
You too can experience the historic gentility of Madewood by staying in one of their guest rooms. There is one aptly named the “Brad Pitt Room” as the actor stayed in it while filming Interview with a Vampire years ago. According to owner Keith Marshall, none of the staff knew who he was and were disappointed it wasn’t Tom Cruise. In the main house, there are 5 bedrooms and in the less formal adjoining Charlet House, once a river captain’s abode, there are 3 rooms.
Of Notable Mention
Not all of the interior scenes were shot at Madewood. Actress Jennifer Coolidge’s Lower Garden District New Orleans home made appearances in The Beguiled during takes in the music room, parlor and bedrooms. The high ceilings! The silk drapes! The incredible antiques! I wish her home was published somewhere but, alas, this is all I could dig up.
I watched the original The Beguiled starring Clint Eastwood to see if the houses resembled each other. Turns out, the plantations are but mere miles from each other in Louisiana. Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation is now a corporate holding not open to the public but you can drive by it!
And about that cemetery on the Madewood plantation? Local legend has it that a long deceased member of the Pugh family was buried in one of the plots with her small white dog. One day, a guest of the B&B found herself being followed down a hallway by a small ivory canine that no one ever saw again. There was also an incident in the dining room of a large epergne (a decorative piece made of glass and crystal) flying across the table all in front of a Metropolitan Opera tenor who was a guest.
Oh, and Beyonce’s Lemonade video? Also filmed at Madewood! I hope you all enjoyed getting to know The Beguiled set a bit better, does anyone else really want to stay there now? Have you all seen The Beguiled? What did you think? Let me know!