Dickens Secret Lover (2008)

David Haig and Amy Shiels in period costumes. David looking up to the ceiling and Amy is behind looking at him

David Haig as Dickens and Amy Shiels as Nelly © Channel 4

Director: Sarah Aspinall

Writer: Jim Barton

Production Company:  Flame Television Production Ltd.

Kent Filming Locations: Charles Dickens Chalet at Eastgate House Rochester and Theatre Royal Margate.

Dickens’ Secret Lover is screening on Channel 4 as part of their Victorian Passions season, examining Charles Dickens’ private life. The programme reveals the secret life of the literary giant,  in which he abandons his wife for a long lasting affair with a very young actress.

Charles Dance sat on a chair facing the camera. Colourful curtains are behind him.

Charles Dance presenting Dickens © Channel 4

The programme is presented by Charles Dance, an actor who was seen most recently in the BBC adaptation of Bleak House as the callous Tulkinghorn. Dance takes on the role of detective in this drama-documentary, questioning five Dickens’ experts on how the affair affected his writing and his public character of a virtuous Victorian. Key scenes are dramatised to give the viewer a more in depth understanding of Dickens (played by David Haig) and his secret life with actress Nelly, played by Amy Shiels.

Charles Dickens’ is arguably Kent’s most famous author, having lived both at Gad’s Hill in Higham and at Broadstairs in Bleak House, Kent is understandably rich in historical links to the author. Many of his novels were penned here and many of the locations used in his novels echo real life locations in Kent. For example Westgate House in the Pickwick Papers is widely reported to be based on Eastgate House in Rochester.

The programme filmed on location both at Rochester in Charles Dickens’ Chalet at Eastgate House in Rochester and the  Theatre Royal in Margate.

The Swiss Chalet, a present from a French actor to Dickens, was originally constructed in the grounds of his home at Gad’s Hill before moving to Cobham Hall in Gravesham, where the recent BBC series Bleak House was filmed. Nowadays, the Chalet can be seen in the garden at Eastgate house in Rochester.

Exterior shot of Eastgate House - red brick building with black windows

Eastgate House © Medway Council

The Theatre Royal in Margate was chosen because  the crew wanted to visit locations that Dickens was passionate about. A performer himself, he frequently read his works to the public throughout the UK, and of course in Kent.

Eastgate House, situated in Rochester was formerly a large private town house. Built by Sir Peter Buck; it has now been restored and is owned by Medway Council. Productions such as Jekyll and Hyde (2015),  BBC’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012) and Great Expectations (1989) have previously filmed in the Rochester area.

The Theatre Royal is situated in the heart of Margate which is a vibrant seaside resort, with complementary historic and modern architecture. Margate has welcomed other productions including The Apprentice (2015), Last Orders (2002) and Only Fools and Horses: The Jolly Boys’ Outing (1989).

In 2012 England will celebrating the bicentenary of his birth.

Dickens’ Secret Lover will be shown on Channel 4 at 9pm on the 16th June 2008.

For more information about Kent’s Filming History please visit our Movie Map.