The job of a location manager must be a hard one.
Even in these days of digital magic, real settings are still sought after by top directors and producers of movies and TV specials. Everywhere from steamy jungles through ancient monuments to steep mountain paths are pressed into the service of the gods and goddesses of entertainment.
And once a film or show hits top of the rankings we all want a slice of that magic. Most of us would struggle to reach Tomb Raider’s remote Cambodian jungles, follow in Dr Strange’s footsteps to Kathmandu, see the majesty of the South American waterfalls of The Mission first-hand or bake in the the epic Namibian deserts used for Mad Max.
But there are several much more accessible backdrops to find, many of them not far off the beaten track here in the UK.
Oxford – Harry Potter and Inspector Morse
Here’s a two-for-the-price of one location, depending on your age and literary tastes. Fans of murder mysteries will love walking in the footsteps of Morse and Lewis with an iconic skyline or street scene around almost every corner.
But for the magically inclined you need to see Christ Church College’s Great Hall and staircase, instantly recognisable to fans of the Harry Potter films. Don’t miss the small archway just to the left of the entrance, as that was used for the scene when Harry first arrives at Hogwarts.
New College has the tree under which Draco threatens Harry and the Bodleian Library is the location for both the Hogwarts infirmary scenes and where Professor McGonnagal gives her students dancing lessons. And you don’t need an invisibility cloak to visit Duke Humfrey’s library as Harry did, just a ticket for a 30 minute guided tour.
Although few of the filmed versions of Alice in Wonderland actually use the city as a backdrop Oxford is packed with Carrollian references. You can even take a boat trip on the same stretch of river where Lewis Carroll first told his story to the real life Alice Liddell.
Taking a guided walk of the whole city with the knowledgeable Blue/Green badge guides is a great way to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
Bath – anything involving Jane Austen
Beautiful Bath has been the backdrop for dozens of big and small screen adaptations. Built of golden Bath stone with original cobbled streets and elegant Georgian architecture it attracts film scouts like bees to a honeypot.
The Pump Room can be seen in Persuasion and the Assembly Rooms in The Duchess. Great Pulteney Street was a backdrop for Vanity Fair, the Canary Gin Bar featured in Sherlock and the famous Pulteney Bridge was the scene chosen for Javert’s suicide in Les Miserables.
Holkham, Norfolk – Shakespeare in Love and more
You must remember this bit – Gwyneth Paltrow strolls along a seemingly unending beach, contemplating sailing off to the New World leaving behind Ralph Fiennes as her broken-hearted lover. The miles of white-gold sand could tempt you into staging your own windswept dramatics – just watch out for the local seal colonies who might spoil the mood!
And don’t miss nearby Holkham Hall where Natalie Portman was filmed for Annihilation, David Jason and Maggie Smith dined in the great saloon for the First World War drama, ‘All The King’s Men’ and ‘The Duchess’ starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes used the Hall as its sumptuous backdrop.
Thetford – Dad’s Army
Thetford became second home to the cast and crew of the long running TV comedy with most of the outdoor scenes filmed in Thetford which became the fictional Walmington-on-Sea (despite being landlocked!) Cast and crew would stay locally every summer while filming the series and the nearby Stanford Battle Area just north of the town was the location for the iconic credits sequence.
If Dad’s Army memorabilia is what you love, press on a little further east and drop in to Poppylands Tea Room in Horsey on the North Norfolk Coast (where you’ll find even more seals!)
Lavenham – witches and wizards
Moving a little south we come to the beautiful town of Lavenham in Suffolk.
Delightful when sunshine bathes the soft-coloured half-timbered medieval houses but far more sinister on celluloid in the 1968 Vincent Price film Witchfinder General.
The town’s higgledy-piggledy houses were also the inspiration for Godric’s Hollow where the infant Harry Potter’s parents were killed and Potter received his iconic scar.
Yorkshire Moors and coastline
Emmerdale, Heartbeat, Last of the Summer Wine, All Creatures Great and Small, Open All Hours – seems TV can’t get enough of Yorkshire’s rolling hills and quiet villages. And when you want somewhere wild and windy then the Moors are the place to be, and not just for Wuthering Heights.
‘Little Voice’ was filmed in Scarborough with a leading cast including Jane Horrocks, Michael Caine, Ewan McGregor and Brenda Blethyn. The Dresser featured York and Bradford. The emotive Kes was filmed in Barnsley, as was the comedy Brassed Off.
And of course here comes Harry Potter again, with Goathland Station doubling for Hogsmeade where the Hogswatch Express terminates and Malham Cove is where Ron, Hermione and Harry set up camp while searching for horcruxes in The Deathly Hallows.
Head further up the A1 and you’ll find the stunning Durham Cathedral, whose cloisters were the setting for yet more iconic Potter moments.
King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, London – yet more Harry Potter
Many churches, cathedrals and castles across the UK were used to film snippets of scenes from all the Potter films, and to see them you’ll need to flash the cash and pay for a ticket or tour.
But the most accessible location for Potter-maniacs is Platform 9 and 3/4, where the Hogwarts Express began its journey. These scenes were filmed at King’s Cross station on platforms 4 and 5 but the exterior shots are actually of the beautiful old style entrance at St Pancras. The Renaissance Hotel at the station has also been seen in films like Batman and 102 Dalmatians. Sidenote: The bridge which Harry and Hagrid use to approach the station is in York – that’s the magic of film-making.
Brighton – Brighton Rock and Quadrophenia
You can’t move in our home city for film locations but the two most famous are the pier in Graham Greene’s classic Brighton Rock and of course the seafront for Quadrophenia.
Keep your eyes peeled in the Lanes area of the city for Quadrophenia Alley which is a bit of a shrine for Mods. It’s the location for the scene where two lovers escape the police. It’s easily missed and probably only exciting to devotees of the film.
Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, Princess Bride and others
Saving the best until last because we adore the atmosphere of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire and it’s no suprise that film makers do too.
It’s where Buttercup greets the crowds before her wedding in the Princess Bride and where she rides off on horseback across the river.
The Hall has also featured in Zefferelli’s 2011 version of Jane Eyre and had cameo roles in a recent Pride and Prejudice remake and The Other Boleyn Girl.
Have you ever visited somewhere just because you saw it in a film?