The Only Way is Wessex

The Only Way is Wessex

Thomas Hardy classics, Oscar-winning blockbusters, and TV mini-series: our beautiful county has played a starring role on screen. Andrew Carless is ready for his close-up

Some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain can be found in Dorset. Whether you like dramatic coastlines, sweeping countryside or pretty cottages, the county has the lot.

Little wonder, then, that film directors have been drawn to Dorset when they have needed a brilliant location for a film. We would expect films based on Thomas Hardy’s novels to be filmed in Dorset. It would be sacrilege to go anywhere else and the county has been the back drop to Far from the Madding Crowd twice, The Mayor of Casterbridge and, of course, Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Was there ever such a vulnerable heroine as Nastassja Kinski?

And in a reworking of a Hardy novel, Stephen Frears, himself a former Dorset resident, directed Tamara Drewe with Bond-girl Gemma Arterton taking on the role of journalist Tamara based on the comic strip by Posy Simmonds. Sherborne School has also been popular, with films such as The Imitation Game, The Browning Version and Goodbye, Mr Chips, and the mini-series Wolf Hall all shot in and around the quad.

Milton Abbey School was used for television’s To Serve Them All My Days and the brilliant Ripping Yarns. Iconic film stills have been shot in the county; The French Lieutenant’s Woman was filmed in Lyme Regis and famously uses The Cobb as a dramatic backdrop, with a hooded Meryl Steep looking out to sea. The town was also used for the 1995 and 2007 adaptations of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, whilst Emma was filmed in Evershot and Dorchester.

The coast has been used in other films; Portland Harbour took centre stage in the 2008 film The Boat that Rocked starring Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy and Nick Frost about a pirate radio station in the North Sea.

Most recently, of course, West Bay has featured on the small screen in the multi award-winning Broadchurch, while the ill-fated Harbour Lights is thankfully a distant memory.

Nanny McPhee was partly filmed in the Purbecks, as well as Mansfield Park and the darkly comic Mike Leigh film Nuts in May. In 1997, Stephen Fry portrayed Oscar Wilde in the film Wilde; scenes were shot around Swanage Pier, Lulworth and Studland beaches.

The Blackmore Vale was the back drop to Fair Stood the Wind for France, and the famous chandelier scene in Only Fools and Horses was set up at Clayesmore school in Iwerne Minster. So, the next time you walk into a pub and think someone is the spitting image of a famous actor, you may be right. You may even be asked to be an extra. You will, however, never outshine the Dorset countryside.

This article is taken from Symonds & Sampson's award-winning lifestyle magazine 'Country Matters'. Why not take a read?

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