Dorset has enjoyed the privilege of playing itself in a high number of movies, many of them well-loved classics. The county’s natural beauty lends itself to epic stories with sweep and splendour; it’s also a favourite location because of its fantastic coastline and awe-inspiring ancient landscapes of hills that seem to roll on forever. Empty space on such a huge scale is rare in England and much like the neighbouring Wiltshire, there’s plenty of room to make films with period settings here without traces of the modern age intruding on the frame.
If you love films, you’ll enjoy seeking out famous landscapes, villages and buildings as seen on the silver screen. Dorset is home to many former film locations that can still be recognised, as well as locations that were heavily disguised because they were meant to portray somewhere else faraway.
We’re film fans too and we’ve unearthed virtually everything lensed in Dorset from the biggest blockbusters to notorious horror films, even one set in a Bournemouth takeaway.
Famous author Thomas Hardy penned and set most of his novels in Dorset, and as a result, the film adaptations have also been shot here. His best-known novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, has been adapted twice; once in 1967 by director John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie; and again in 2015 with direction by Thomas Vinterberg and starring Carey Mulligan. Locations included: Maiden Castle, Mapperton House, West Bay, Eype Beach, Sherbourne and Durdle Door.
Another unofficial update of Far from the Madding Crowd called Tamara Drewe was also filmed in the villages of Salwayash and Yetminster; this version was also based on the eponymous comic-strip by Posy Simmonds. Also seek out Thomas Hardy’s The Scarlet Tunic that was released in 1998 and largely shot in Purbeck. Also filmed at Maiden Castle was the 1921 version of the Mayor of Casterbridge. There was also a ‘made for TV’ version adapted by the visionary, Dennis Potter, that employed the iconic ruins of Corfe Castle as enhancement. Not all Thomas Hardy Dorset-set stories are made within county borders, but if you are a fan of his seek out: Jude, The Woodlanders, and The Claim (based on the Mayor of Casterbridge).
A full-sized set of Castle Elsinore was built for a 1913 silent movie version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Dungy Head whilst much of the film was shot at Lulworth Cove. Another classic is the unusual Meryl Streep starrer, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. It’s perhaps one of the most enduring images of British cinema, the mere mention of the film still conjures up the vision of the windswept character stood at the end of The Cobb in Lyme Regis. Legend has it, that a male stand-in was used in the final shot as the producers didn’t want to risk their star getting swept away into the sea. Another literary classic is Tom Jones which was filmed at Cerne Abbas, famous for its ‘happy’ chalk giant cut into the side of a hill. You can visit Cranborne House, another Tom Jones location, and can marvel at what a bonny lad the acting titan Albert Finney once was! Albert Finney was back in Dorset at Milton Abbey School to film the second movie version of Terence Rattigan’s brilliant play The Browning Version (1994) for director Mike Figgis. He delivers one of his best performances in this underrated, mostly forgotten, British movie.
When Jane Austen’s stories were seeing something of a resurgence in the mid-to-late 1990s due to the TV success of Pride & Prejudice, three other adaptations were made. They were Persuasion (1995) filmed in Lyme Regis, Emma (1996, starring Gwyneth Paltrow), and Mansfield Park (1998, starring Australian actress Frances O’Connor). For fans of The Dam Busters (aka Dads and Grandads everywhere) head to Chesil Beach to see the actual location where the bouncing bomb trials were carried out, and the film location too. A classic war movie that has stayed in the popular film lexicon for decades, where many others have begun to fade away.
Modern and future classics:
Everyone of a certain age has seen or at least vaguely recalls the excruciatingly funny Mike Leigh film Nuts in May. The tale of two holiday makers bobbing around Purbeck locations tormenting the locals with eco-friendly sing-songs is a comedy classic. Locations include Corfe Castle, Worth Matravers and the military ranges above Swanage. Gay-auteur Derek Jarman headed to Studland Bay for scenes in his 1978 film Jubilee – an impressive movie that caught the zeitgeist of Punk and Thatcherism by reimagining the 1970s. Starring pop-icon Adam Ant, Toyah Wilcox and a cast of famous outcasts, this is another film lost in time. Staying with the New Queer Cinema classics, the film Wilde which stars Stephen Fry as the eponymous man of wit and words was filmed around Swanage Harbour to great effect. As recently as summer 2018, a major film was shot in Dorset on location, On Chesil Beach, based on the best-selling novel by Ian McEwan. Starring Saoirse Ronan and newcomer Billy Howle, this faithful adaptation was a modest hit and used the location of Chesil Beach to stunning effect.
On the box – Classic TV:
The phenomenally successful TV serial Broadchurch was made around West Bay, Littlebredy and Bridport at the western end of the Jurassic Coast. Starring Olivia Colman and David Tennant, it is one of British television’s most-watched dramas and the locations draw in 1000s of fans every year. Other well-known shows over the decades have used Dorset as the backdrops for scenes in Monty Python’s Flying Circus (Studland), Wolf Hall (Sherborne), forgotten 1960s mini-series The Bulldog Breed (Poole Park) and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (a famous TV show from the 70s and early 80s) where Leonard Rossiter takes his long bath at Studland Beach.
If you haven’t already introduced your children to the classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks show it to them on a trip to Dorset. This magical children’s classic was captured at Corfe Castle, as well as locations all over the south of England. Far less classic is Nanny McPhee which featured the iconic Durdle Door near Lulworth Cove too. Golden Cap, the tallest sea cliff in England, found along the Jurassic Coastline close to Bridport, was used in the Jack Black starring adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels.
For big kids:
There have been one or two sci-fi and horror films made in Dorset. Horror and sci-fi films are good gateway films for young filmmakers as they don’t often feature stars, and budgets are much lower. Saying that, one of the world’s biggest movie actors Brad Pitt was seen zipping about in a speedboat off Lulworth Cove for a sole scene in the mega-budget horror flick World War Z; proving the adage that there are always exceptions. Little known scare-flick, These Are The Damned which starred the late Oliver Reed, was filmed all around Weymouth. It’s hard now to find a copy of this strange film, but many of the locations can still be seen around the area. Disney were also in Winspit Quarry in Purbeck when they needed a backdrop to stand in for the rocky surface of Mars for the 2012 film of John Carter – a recent Hollywood bomb that’s not such a terrible film to watch. Finally, we come to a take-away on Richmond Hill in central Bournemouth for the location of a small-budget horror called K-Shop. We haven’t tried out the late-night food it sells in real life but for fans of gory horror this is one film location that’s as authentic as it gets.
Dorset in disguise:
The county has been a substitute for foreign countries or fantastical places in parallel worlds too: see Harry Potter, Nanny McPhee, World War Z, and one instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean cycle. Nearby Weymouth Harbour stood in for Dunkirk in director Christopher Nolan’s 2017 summer hit of the same name, which depicted the mass-evacuation of retreating British troops during WW2. Big actors like Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy put in cameos to back up a largely unknown cast in the leading roles.
To round up, here is a helpful list to summarise some more Dorset locations and the films shot there:
- Athelhampton House & Gardens: Sleuth (1972), Elizabeth (1998)
- Abbotsbury Swannery: Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire
- Poole Quay - The Heroes of Telemark, Women of Straw
- Portland Harbour - The Boat That Rocked, In Which We Serve
- Bovington Tank Museum - Fury
- Tyneham - Comrades
- Boscombe Pier, Bournemouth - The Time of Their Lives
- Forde Abbey - Restoration
- Compton Acres, Canford Cliffs - Summer Holiday, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket
- Russell-Cotes Museum, Bournemouth - Valentino
- Sandbanks Beach, Poole - Morris: A Life with Bells On
- Sherborne School - Goodbye Mr Chips, The Imitation Game
As you can see from this list, Dorset is a huge favourite with location scouts and it seems to tick a lot of items on filmmakers’ wish lists. Why not plan a movie location spotting trip to Dorset to see how many places you can identify from your favourite films?
We have seaside cottages, farmhouses, sea view apartments and luxury country houses for you to choose from in our collection.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.