Film and comic book purists rarely agree on properties moving between the two forms, except when praising Christopher Nolan’s paradigm-shifting Batman trilogy, the very reason why the word “gritty” is now used in quotes.
But the iconography of Batman could not be complete without an essential piece of Batmythos: Wayne Manor.
When the world was first introduced to Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman in Batman Begins (2005), expectations weren’t as high as you might expect. Development had faltered on several DC Comics properties including Tim Burton’s now over-documented Superman Lives! project, and an abandoned Darren Aronofsky-helmed take on the Caped Crusader.
And considering the most recent take on The Dark Knight had been Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin in 1997 ─ a burlesque, overindulgent, rubber-nippled romp if there ever was one ─ it makes sense that Universal Studios was in no rush to invest in another disappointing outing for Gotham’s watchful protector.
However, the flick ended up being pretty good, you may have even heard of it!
The strength of the movie was its more muted, realistic approach to the Bat-tropes (we’re going to do this bat-*** thing, so take a seat and come along for the ride), as well as its almost painstaking attention to details meant to make the Batsuit, the Batarang, the Batmobile, and the Batcave (I literally just told you we’d be doing this) more palpable and functional than previous iterations.
It was also its focus on what was perceived as Batman’s and Bruce Wayne’s (not always the same person) enforced exile from Gotham and his riches as a path to becoming the Dark Knight that captivated audiences that had been unaccustomed to a similar approach in a comic book movie.
The allure of the Batmanor
To highlight the struggle that accompanies removing oneself from a history of wealth and affluence in order to face the failings of real life, Bruce Wayne had to leave something iconic behind. Yes, leaving Gotham is enough of an ostracization from a symbolic standpoint, but did you check out my guy Bruce’s criiib?
An iconic palatial manor meant to evoke at least two centuries of wealth and power, as well as a Northeast-based, WASPy aesthetic that Batman had always projected to avid readers. With Gotham meant to be a stand-in for the most troubled version of New York City, of course the real life model of the house would be found… in England?!
The stand-in for Wayne Manor in Batman Begins is Nottingham’s very own Mentmore Towers, a Jacobethan style estate in Buckinghamshire, England. The property’s towers, surrounding estate and detail immediately convey Batman’s gothic, gargoyle-like iconography, as well as the opulence of the Wayne family wealth, and that’s no random detail.
The estate was built in 1852-1854 for the Rotschild family, an extremely wealthy lineage ─ and regular conspiracy theory darlings ─ that infuses the Batman imagery with an extra layer of pomp and circumstance.
It comes as no surprise that Mentmore Towers is a cinematic mainstay, with appearances in several high-profile movies such as Brazil, Eyes Wide Shut and Ali G Indahouse.
I can only imagine how much it must have hurt Bruce Wayne to know that he wouldn’t be able to call the estate Batmanor in the presence of anyone other than Alfred. Batmansion? I mean, either one would’ve been a decent flex.
Movie changes call for Real (estate) consequences
Well, spoiler alert, but Wayne Manor burns down in the movie, both as a repudiation of the socialite/Prince Charming image Bruce has been fighting with, and a final step in the hero’s journey.
Bruce promises a brick-by-brick rebuild of his family home, but even though Wayne Manor returns in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, Mentmore Towers does not. Kind of like how the character of Rachel Dawes returns in The Dark Knight but Katie Holmes doesn’t.
The rebuilt Wayne Manor in The Dark Knight Rises is represented by Nottingham’s very own Wollaton Hall, an architectural prodigy that has been around for roughly half a millennium. Designed by Elizabethan architect Robert Smythson, the property was built between 1580-1588 for Sir Francis Willoughby, at a time when zoning restrictions weren’t much of a thing.
Inspired choices: the real-life Wayne Manor(s)
When Bruce Wayne said he’d rebuild Wayne Manor, he was bound to miss a few bricks. As a result his family home in TDKR is really really similar, but different in just the right spots.
Wollaton Hall had in fact been the main inspiration for the Rotschild’s Mentmore Towers estate, as the former had been considered an important architectural attraction for some time by the mid-1800s.
We’re not as sure that the improvements to the Batcave were already installed at Wollaton Hall, but it would reflect well on the production’s location scouts.
Both locations are incredibly popular these days, attracting architecture fans and bat-thusiasts alike. Wollaton Hall operates as the Nottingham Natural History Museum ─ their bat exhibition must be truly impressive ─ while Mentmore Towers has changed hands a few times since 1977 with notable owners including the Maharishi Foundation and the Mentmore Golf & Country club, which stopped operating in 2015.
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