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Actor Matthew Rhys leafs through a book or two in aid of Thorp Perrow Arboretum

PUBLISHED: 08:46 08 October 2013 | UPDATED: 08:46 08 October 2013

Pic Joan Russell
Actor Matthew Rhys reading poetry at Thorpe Perrow Arboretum in Bedale.

Pic Joan Russell Actor Matthew Rhys reading poetry at Thorpe Perrow Arboretum in Bedale.

Joan Russell Photography

There has been much curiosity and excitement surrounding the filming in Yorkshire of the television drama Death Comes to Pemberley, the PD James sequel to Pride and Prejudice. But few probably realised leading man Matthew Rhys, who plays Darcy in the three part programme, also has a connection with Thorp Perrow Arboretum, near Bedale in North Yorkshire. He has been the guest of owners Sir John and Lady Niki Ropner and Sir John's daughter Annabel Dugdale, a long time friend of the actor.

They met on the set of the film thriller Sorted more than 10 years ago. Matthew took a break at Thorp Perrow when filming Pemberley ended. It was then the family persuaded him to give a series of readings and to answer questions from the audience as a way of raising money for their work at Thorpe Perrow Arboretum, one of the finest private collections of trees and shrubs in the country.

‘I am happy to do it, it’s beautiful here,’ said Matthew as he waited to greet guests with Sir John and Lady Niki. ‘I’ve known Annabel for a long time, but she was sensible enough to get out of the film industry.’ He met guests, many of them fans of his work especially in television playing a spy in The Americans on ITV every Saturday, and before that a gay Republican in another US show, Brothers & Sisters.

But on this occasion he was keen to celebrate Yorkshire talent with readings from the work of Ted Hughes, Helen Dunmore, Michael Palin and Alan Bennett. Credit where credit is due, his Yorkshire accent wasn’t so bad even though earlier in the evening we had to help him with his pronunciation of Mytholmroyd, but he’s a fast learner.

The actor has turned his hand to writing too in the past and is the author of Patagonia: Crossing the Plain which tells the story of his journey in the footsteps of Welshman John Murray Thomas who led an expedition through Patagonia during the late 19th century. But Matthew told his Thorp Perrow audience he doesn’t plan any more serious writing although a film based on his book and in which he stars, has lately won five nominations at the Welsh Baftas.

So what next for the self-deprecating actor who says he’s enjoying basking in the reflected glory of Colin Firth’s portrayal of Darcy? Don’t be surprised if he returns home from the USA where he lives at the moment and he wouldn’t mind, he said, one day taking a role in a stage musical such as Guys and Dolls. Judging from the response, his fans can’t wait.

About Thorp Perrow

The Thorp Perrow Estate was bought by William Ropner in 1927. Thorp Perrow Arboretum is the creation of Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner and is now owned and managed by his son Sir John Ropner.

It is home to some of the largest and rarest trees and shrubs in England and includes the Milbank Pinetum planted by Lady Augusta Milbank in the mid-19th century as well as Spring Wood which dates back to the 16th century.

It has one of the finest and most extensive plantings of daffodils in the North of England, including some old and unusual varieties as well as carpets of bluebells and drifts of wildflowers.

The arboretum is laid out in sections connected by paths, grass walks, glades, bays, or avenues. Many of the trees and shrubs have origins in China, Japan, North America, Chile and Europe.

Thorp Perrow Arboretum which covers 85 acres is open to the public and the estate includes a Bird of Prey and Mammal Centre. For more information and details of events and other attractions go to thorpperrow.com

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