Lights. Camera. Action.
From dramatic cliffs and seas stacks to ancient granite tors and bleak and beautiful moorlands, the West Country has been the inspiration for many a film impresario and has played its part in a long list of blockbusting titles.
Join us for a tour of the region’s most iconic movie locations and discover the stars of the screen who helped make them happen…
First, we travel to the brooding wilds of Dartmoor, stage for the epic war drama War Horse. Directed by Steven Spielberg, this powerful adaption of a novel by Devon-based author, Michael Morpurgo, tells the story of Devonshire farm boy, Albert, and his beloved bay horse, Joey, whose bond is broken by the outbreak of the Great War. Parts of the film were shot on locations in and around the villages of Sheepstor and Meavy, and Ditsworthy Warren House, all on the south-western edges of Dartmoor.
War Horse remains one of the highest grossing war films of all time.
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter were amongst the all-star cast of director Tim Burton’s gothic comedy horror Dark Shadows. The film, set in coastal Maine, was shot entirely on location in the UK and includes scenes of Great Mattiscombe Sands, near Start Point, on the South Devon peninsula. Whilst the film didn’t live up to the hype and expectation, Johnny Depp’s lunchtime visits to the local South Hams pubs remain a real talking point amongst the yokels.
Blackpool Sands, near Dartmouth, takes brief centre-stage in the 1992 film adaptation of Howards End starring Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Emma Thompson. The secluded bay, beloved for its golden sands, crystal blue waters and sweeping channel views, is the setting for the country cottage to which Margaret, played by Emma Thompson (who won an Academy Award for her performance), retreats, just one of the many twists and turns of this classic romantic drama hailed by critics as one of the greatest movies of all time.
In 1995 Hollywood fell head over heels for period drama Sense and Sensibility and the acting of Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant. Directed by Ang Lee and adapted from Jane Austen’s classic novel, the location scouts picked out several historic and flamboyant settings in Devon for its impressive cast of actors. Amongst the locations was Saltram House, the magnificent Georgian mansion which became ‘Norland Park’ and home to the Dashwood sisters. The cameras were also rolling at St Mary’s Church in the village of Berry Pomeroy, near the market town of Totnes, for the wedding of Marianne and Brandon, and Compton Castle; a dramatic fortified manor house dating back to the 1400s. Even the medieval cobbled streets of Plymouth’s Barbican make an appearance in this smash hit costume drama from the 90s.
For all you film buffs out there, Devon’s own English Riviera Film Festival could be right up your street with film premieres from award-winning directors, interviews with feature film producers and demos from industry professionals.
And now for some Cornish classics, and what better film to start with than the 1939 thriller, Jamaica Inn, an adaption of Daphne du Maurier’s best-selling novel. Shot on locations in and around the hamlet of Bolventor on Bodmin Moor and including the legendary smugglers’ tavern known as the Jamaica Inn which dates back to the 1500s. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t particularly well-received by critics or Daphne du Maurier herself, lacking the plot and tension of the book and considered one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s worst ever films. However, the film only added to the mystique surrounding Cornwall’s most famous inn.
It was considered one of the most controversial films of its time and tells the story of a young couple who have moved to a quiet corner of Cornwall where their dreams of a quiet life soon descend into a nightmare. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Strawdogs is a disturbing psychological thriller that upon its release was hugely criticised for its depictions of sexual violence and misogynism, and was subsequently banned in 1984 by the British Board of Film Classification. The film was shot on locations around the West Cornish village of St Buryan, near Land’s End.
Arguably the most high-profile movie to be shot on location in Cornwall is Die Another Day starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Holywell Bay, near the seaside resort of Newquay on the north coast, was chosen as one of the locations for the opening surfing sequence, where professional surfer, Laird Hamilton, ‘drops in’ as Brosnan’s stunt double, and the spectacular biodomes of The Eden Project near St Austell were portrayed as a blood diamond mine. The film marked the Bond franchise’s 40th anniversary and sees MI6 agent, 007, pit his wits against arch-villain Gustav Graves played by Toby Stephens.
Also known for his role in the spying game, is the debonair-but-bungling agent Johnny English played by Rowan Atkinson. This 2003 spy comedy parody of James Bond grossed $160 million worldwide and topped the UK’s box office. Captured in the movie is the spectacular Cornish landmark, St Michael’s Mount; a small tidal island on Mount’s Bay with its ancient cobbles and castle walls. The castle is a depiction of a French château owned by the character Pascal Sauvage played by John Malkovich.
With its all-star cast including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry, Alice in Wonderland (2010) is the eighteenth highest grossing film of all time. Directed by Tim Burton, this fantasy adventure based on novels by Lewis Carroll was largely shot on locations around Devon and Cornwall and heavily features the magnificent National Trust property, Anthony House, in Torpoint, and also the historic Georgian port of Charlestone, near St Austell.
Our next choice (for more obvious reasons) is a Toad Hall Cottages’ favourite. Starring Monty Python’s John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin alongside Steve Coogan, Stephen Fry and Victoria Wood, The Wind in the Willows (1995) is a movie remake of Kenneth Grahame’s much-loved tale and was filmed around the beautiful Camel Estuary in North Cornwall.
Other films to have taken advantage of the dramatic Cornish countryside are The Dam Busters, Moll Flanders, The Three Musketeers, The Eagle Has Landed and many, many more.
The Cornwall Film Festival run an annual curated programme of film events, including screenings of international festival winners and the best of British plus a variety of year-round gatherings.
To Dorset now…
Starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, Director Karel Reisz 1980s adaption of the French Lieutenant’s Woman won a string of Academy and BAFTA awards, with Streep being awarded a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the troubled and enigmatic, Sarah Woodruff. The film was adapted by playwright, Harold Pinter, and is based on a novel by John Fowles. One of the most iconic scenes of the film is of Sarah standing in a cloak on the Cobb (harbour wall) in Lyme Regis, although rumour has it that because of bad weather and breaking waves, it was actually a stuntman stand-in underneath the famous dark, hooded garment. A number of other locations were used during filming both in and around Lyme Regis including: Undercliffs Nature Reserve, Broad Street, The Royal Lion Hotel, and Serendip Bookshop (often frequented by writer, John Fowles, having retired to Lyme Regis where he wrote the original novel). The South Devon settings of Dartmouth and Kingswear also feature in the final reel; the Steam Packet Inn and the Royal Dart Hotel undergoing cosmetic transformations to blend in with the Victorian 1860s set.
Adapted from Thomas Hardy’s book of the same name, Far From The Madding Crowd (1967), an epic drama of its time, tells that story of one woman’s tangled relationship with three of her suitors, all from different classes and obeying different social codes. Much of the film was shot on location in the rolling hills of Dorset, and the novel’s fictitious setting of ‘Weatherbury’ is based on the idyllic Dorset village of Puddletown, near Dorchester. Scratchy Bottom cliffs; between Swyre Head and the natural rock arch of Durdle Dorr, and Bloxworth House; a 17th century brick house near Bere Regis which was used to represent ‘Weatherbury Farm’, also featured in this classic from the 60s that successfully captured Hardy’s Wessex. The film was remade in 2015 and returned to many of the Dorset locations used in the original.
Brad Pitt was the star attraction during the filming of director Marc Forster’s barnstorming zombie apocalypse horror, World War Z, when he pitched up at Lulworth Cove on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, not far from the seaside resort of Bournemouth. The cove was used to depict the movie’s ‘Freeport Safe Zone, Nova Scotia’ as our cast of heroes battle to save the human race from a deadly pandemic. Following its release in 2013, the movie went on to gross $540 million worldwide, having already captured the imagination of the Dorset parish of Purbeck where the antics of Hollywood heartthrob, Pitt, had them weak at the knees. The film was an adaption of a book by Max Brooks.
Gwyneth Paltrow puts in a “dazzling” performance as Jane Austen’s Emma in a period film directed by Douglas McGrath. This 1996 costume drama was a big hit worldwide and hailed by critics as a fresh and original adaption of Austen’s novel about the jeopardy of flighty romance and youthful presumptions. Several of the films backdrops were shot on locations near Evershot and Dorchester, west Dorset, the climactic setting for much love and match-making.
Set in Victorian England, Nanny McPhee is a family comedy fantasy starring Emma Thompson as the magical ‘Nanny McPhee’ who wins the hearts of seven unruly children, and also features Colin Firth. The film was a box office smash hit when it was released in 2005, and went down a storm ‘across the pond’. The production team chose Purbeck with its dramatic cliffs and rolling hills as an exhilarating setting for some of this action-packed family adventure.
Other films that have used locations across Dorset are Nuts in May, From Time to Time, The Damned, The Boat that Rocked, Persuasion, Tamara Drewe…to name but a few!