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Helen Mirren to Play Heiress Who Built Winchester Mystery House

Big news from the Cannes Film Festival about San Jose's most (in)famous house

Fantastic news today at the intersection of famous Bay Area houses and great thespians: According to SFist, Academy Award-winning actor Helen Mirren is set to play Sarah Winchester, the rifle heiress who obsessively built the mysterious 160-room Winchester House located in San Jose.

The story goes something like this: Winchester, a strong believer in the occult, purchased an unfinished farmhouse in 1884 down in Santa Clara County, shortly after the death of her infant daughter and her husband, where she began to build her famous mansion with neither blueprints nor architectural finesse. Lore has it that she was told by a soothsayer to build the house non-stop, or else she would die. Other accounts, per her biography, claim the construction was a way for the heiress to cope with the sudden death of her family.

The movie will be a supernatural-thriller with the working title of Winchester.

A designated California historical landmark, the Winchester House is a Queen Anne Victorian that's noted for such oddities like a switchback staircase, which "has seven flights with forty four steps" and "rises only about nine feet, since each step is just two inches high"; twisting hallways with secret passageways; and a sundry of assorted spirits and ghosts. Structurally, the 24,000-square foot Winchester House features approximately 160 rooms, with 40 bedrooms, two ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, over 10,000 panes of glass (some created by the Tiffany Company), 17 chimneys, two basements, and three elevators.

The house is privately owned and welcomes guests daily.