20 films featuring Dorset landmarks
- Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
From Rebecca to Far From the Madding Crowd and On Chesil Beach to Ammonite – Dorset has played a starring role
In Which We Serve (1942): Directed by Noel Coward and David Lean, this was a patriotic film to stiffen the British upper lip. Made with the assistance of the Ministry of Information, Coward based his screenplay on the dashing exploits of Lord Louis Mountbatten in the Battle of Crete the previous year. The story revolves around Captain Kinross and the crew of HMS Torrin. The naval station at Portland provides one of the locations, quite something when you consider there was a war on and this would have been on high alert.
The Dam Busters (1954): This epic British war film starring Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave was inspired by the RAF’s 617 Squadron attack on dams in Nazi Germany using the bouncing bomb invented by Barnes Wallis. Filmed in and around Weymouth, The Fleet was used for the testing site sequence. Just 12 years earlier Chesil Beach had been where the prototype for the real bouncing bomb was filmed in December 1942, dropped by aircraft from RAF Warmwell.
Tom Jones (1963): This adaptation of the Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, directed by Tony Richardson, featured Albert Finney as the titular hero who romps his way through 18th century society. Nominated for 10 Oscars and landing four including Best Picture, Cranborne Manor and its glorious gardens provided the location for Squire Allworthy’s estate. While the pretty village of Cerne Abbas and the manor house at the end of Abbey Street was the house of Squire Western and his daughter Sophia (Susannah York) who eventually becomes Tom’s wife.
Far From the Madding Crowd (1967): Starring Terence Stamp as the mesmerising Sergeant Troy, Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene and Alan Bates as Gabriel Oak, this Thomas Hardy love story set in the Wessex landscape makes full use of Dorset as a location. Gabriel’s sheep plunge over the cliffs at Scratchy Bottom, near Durdle Door, which later features in the scene where Troy swims out to sea. We see Fanny trudging up Gold Hill in Shaftesbury to the poor house, and St Nicholas Church at Sydling St Nicolas is where we find Fanny’s grave. Friar Waddon House in Weymouth provides the exteriors for Squire Boldwood’s house, whilst the grand interiors are Thornhill House near Stalbridge. Bathsheba’s farm is an amalgamation of several locations including Portesham, Bloxworth House at Bere Regis, and Encombe. While the huge Tithe Barn at Abbotsbury is the location for the drunken harvest supper. Perhaps the most striking location is Maiden Castle, Dorchester where Troy dazzles Bathsheba with his swordsmanship.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971): This is the first film I went to see at the cinema. Based on the magical children’s classic by Mary Norton, it tells the story of three orphaned children - Charlie, Carrie, and Paul Rawlins - who are evacuated from the Blitz torn London to Pepperinge Eye a role played by Corfe Castle village. Here they are put into the care of Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) who is none too happy at her new house guests as she is secretly learning witchcraft with the hope of using her spells in the British war effort.
Sleuth (1972): Adapted from Anthony Shaffer’s play, Andrew Wyke (Laurence Oliver), a successful crime writer invites his wife’s lover Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) to his large country manor house (Athelhampton) to play a game with potentially deadly consequences. The exterior of this glorious Tudor manor house outside Puddletown and its gardens provide the backdrop for this gripping thriller.
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The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981): Admit it, we’ve all wanted to have our French Lieutenant’s Woman moment standing on the end of the Cobb at Lyme Regis with our cloak flapping in a south-westerly! Based on local resident John Fowles’ 1969 novel and adapted by Harold Pinter for the screen, Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep feature in two romantic affairs, one in the past and one in the present. Streep’s luminous performance won her a clutch of Best Actress awards, but the star of the show is the magnificent brooding Cobb, the famous harbour wall, which also features in Jane Austen’s Persuasion where Louisa Musgrove takes a tumble from the wall.
Comrades (1986): Filmed in rural Dorset and Australia, this historical drama directed by Bill Douglas tells the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six Dorset labourers deported to Australia in the 1830s for forming a trade union. With a cast including Keith Allen, James Fox and Vanessa Redgrave, the story is seen through the eyes of a travelling magic-lanternist. Locations include the ghost village of Tyneham (taken over by the military during World War II) as well as famous Dorset landmarks. In the opening sequence the lanternist walks across the figure of the Cerne Abbas Giant, and Maiden Castle, Dorchester is also featured. Poorly received when it went on general release in 1987, it has since been recognised as a compelling account of injustice and heroism, and the Dorset landscape is integral to the story.
The Browning Version (1994): Directed by Mike Figgis and starring Albert Finney and Greta Scacchi this film is based on Terence Rattigan’s 1948 play set in a public school. Two prestigious Dorset schools snapped up this role - Milton Abbey and Sherborne Schools. The latter played the same role in the 1951 version of the film starring Michael Redgrave as Andrew Crocker-Harris, a teacher of Greek and Latin who is being forced into retirement.
Emma (1996): Gwyneth Paltrow stepped into the role of Emma Woodhouse for this Jane Austen classic which includes several Dorset locations. Evershot became Highbury village, Came House near Dorchester was Hartfield, home of Emma and her father, Crichel House provided the interiors for Donwell Abbey, the home of Mr Knightley, Mapperton House and gardens is ‘Randalls’, the Westons’ house and the gardens at Hartfield, and Stafford House, West Stafford, now the home of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes, was used for some of the interiors
From Time to Time (2009): This haunting ghost story set in 1944 and spanning two worlds, more than a century apart, plays out at Athelhampton House and its gardens. Directed by Julian Fellowes who adapted the story from The Chimneys of Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston, the cast includes Timothy Spall and Maggie Smith with Athelhampton playing a starring role as the Green Knowe estate, and its library and great hall used for some of the interior shots. In real life Athelhampton is known for having a number of ghosts including an ape, a Grey Lady and some duellists!
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009): Dorset has even been part of the wizarding world of Harry Potter and his chums, well at least for a couple of minutes on screen. The reedbeds around the Swannery at Abbotsbury provided the location for the Weasley’s family home ‘The Burrow’.
The Boat That Rocked (2009): Loosely based on Radio Caroline and set in 1966, Richard Curtis is the man behind this satire on a pirate radio ship and its band of rogue DJ’s. Exterior filming on the ‘pirate ship’ was done on the former Dutch hospital ship Timor Challenger, which was moored in Portland Harbour and some of the ship interiors were filmed inside a warehouse in Osprey Quay.
Tamara Drewe (2010): Inspired by Posy Simmons newspaper comic strip and graphic novel of the same name, which in turn is loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, Tamara played by Gemma Arterton is essentially a modern-day Bathsheba Everdene. The young journalist returns to the fictious village of Ewedown in Dorset, where she grew up, when she inherits her mother’s house. Dominic Cooper is dangerous and sexy rock-drummer Ben Sergeant who she falls for, a nod towards Sergeant Troy, and Luke Evans plays Andy Cobb the ‘Gabriel Oak’ who saves the day. Yetminster and Salway Ash provide the lush Dorset landscapes and pub for this romantic comedy.
The Imitation Game (2014): Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, this film follows the life of this brilliant mathematician from his early school days at Sherborne School, which was used as one of the film locations, through to cracking the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park and his troubled life after the war.
Far from the Madding Crowd (2015): Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak, Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Troy and Michael Sheen as Boldwood, this David Nicholls adaptation of the Hardy classic had men across the county growing beards and mutton chops so they could be extras in this film! Dorset played an important role too: Mapperton House was transformed into Bathsheba’s farm, Sherborne Abbey Close became Casterbridge, Eype is where Oak’s sheep go over the cliff and West Bay is where Troy takes his final dip. Pure Dorset magic.
On Chesil Beach (2017): This adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2007 Booker Prize nominated novella could only have been set in one place – the 18-mile stretch of shingle bank that makes up Chesil Beach. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle as virgins Florence and Edward, they flee from their wedding night disaster onto the beach. McEwan, who hiked the length of the beach 40 years ago, chose this wild and sometimes bleak Dorset location as the setting for the life-defining show between his star-crossed lovers. “The beauty of this coastline is having The Fleet on one side and the sea on the other, so when they walk out onto the beach to have this stormy row, they’ve got nowhere else to go,” said McEwan. “This seemed to me to be the only place in the United Kingdom where I want the story to be told.” Directed by Dominic Cooke, former director of the Royal Court Theatre, the final scene is nothing short of breath-taking, which is all the more impressive when you realise the condition those shots were achieved in when it was filmed in October 2016. Cast and crew had to travel across The Fleet on a flat-bottomed rowing boat that could carry five people at a time. It was freezing cold, windy and there were no loos and no food! What ends up on screen serves as a calling card for Chesil Beach, just as The French Lieutenant’s Woman did for the Cobb at Lyme Regis. A true love letter to Chesil.
Rebecca (2020): Based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel, the first outing of Rebecca the film was back in 1940 and its was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and Joan Fountaine as the naïve young woman who becomes his wife and the new mistress of Manderley, where the ghost of his first wife Rebecca casts a long shadow. So it’s surprising to discover that it has taken nearly 80 years for this romantic thriller to return to the big screen. Shot in the summer of 2019, this Netflix adaption of Rebecca stars Armie Hammer as Max, Lily James as Daphne his new wife, and Kristen Scott Thomas as the chillingly gothic Mrs Danvers. Manderley itself is an amalgamation of various houses and locations, and in that mix is Mapperton House which provides Daphne’s study, and the gardens which is where they host a garden party on the lawns by the Orangery. The other Dorset element is Cranborne Manor which provides some of the exterior shots.
Ammonite (2020): Directed by Francis Lee and starring Kate Winslet as the fossil hunter Mary Anning and Saoirse Ronin as her love interest, yes indeed, it’s set in Lyme Regis in the 1840s. Most of the filming was done in and around the coastal town that Mary called home in 2019. Here the acclaimed but often derided fossil hunter works her way along cliffs of the Jurassic Coast in search of fossils which she sells to support her family. When a wealthy visitor entrusts Mary with the care of his wife Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan), she cannot afford to turn his offer down. Mary initially clashes with her unwelcome guest, but despite the distance between their social class and personalities, an intense bond begins to develop. But surely the starring role must go to the sublime Jurassic Coast – this film could not have been done anywhere else.
Lawrence After Arabia (2020): Shot in Dorset again in 2019, with a largely local crew and cast supporting a line-up that includes Brian Cox, Michael Maloney and Hugh Fraser with Tom Barber Duffy as Lawrence, this film explores the final years of the enigmatic and mysterious T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia. Written and directed by Mark JT Griffin, it explores the conspiracy theories that surround the death of this reluctant hero of the Arab rebellion. As a child, Griffin saw Eric Kennington’s effigy of Lawrence in St Martin’s on the Walls in Wareham and was told that the fatal motorbike accident near Bovington Camp in May 1935 wasn’t that accidental. Shot over six weeks at locations including St Martin’s, Bovington and Clouds Hill where Lawrence lived, there some stunning shots of Lawrence riding through the Dorset countryside on his beloved Brough Superior motorbike including a race with a Gypsy Moth plane at Compton Abba airfield.
Find out more...
Dorset in Film by Anwar Brett (2011) published by Dorset Books, a brilliant in depth look at some of the great films made here featuring interviews with the cast and crew including Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Emma, and Tom Jones.
Deepest Dorset by Fanny Charles and Gay Pirrie-Wier published by Deepest Books has a chapter on a whole range of films shot in the county from 1942 through to 2015.
Website worth checking out: movie-locations.com gives you the lowdown on some major film locations and trivia. Imdb.com gives you the plot lines, cast and crew lists, trivia and locations for all films