Dame Helen Mirren felt the ''gentle'' presence of Sarah Winchester when she visited her mansion for 'Winchester'.

The 72-year-old actress doesn't believe in life after death, but she had a ghostly experience whilst at the 160-bedroom Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, which has inspired her latest movie based on the real life events of the late widow of William Winchester, who ran the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

Asked if she stayed the night at the property, Helen said: ''I didn't. It was a beautiful, sunny Californian day when I visited.

''But if I had stayed there would be nothing but a flickering candle to show me around. I probably would have been spooked.

''I didn't see any ghosts but I felt Sarah Winchester very gently, very sweetly. It wasn't a sense of something crazy or evil, it was very benign.''

And asked whether she believes in the supernatural, the Hollywood star told the Metro newspaper: ''No, I don't, really. I believe we leave some kind of mark on this planet.

''It's fascinating that we have now discovered we all contain the DNA of our ancestors back to thousands of years ago.

''That we are carrying our ancestors with us is really my closest understanding of spiritualism.''

'Winchester' sees Helen star as Sarah, who is haunted by evil spirits lurking in the property, and the 'Woman in Gold' actress said she was drawn to the film because it's based on real events.

Asked what attracted her to the role, she said: ''I think If the film had just been a fantasy I wouldn't have been so interested but Sarah Winchester actually existed, though she is shrouded in mystery.

''The only two photographs that survive of her are both sort of blurry, like she is surrounded by spirits.''