The UK has made some fairly major contributions to popular culture over the years. From Shakespeare and Tennyson to Bowie and Lennon, the list of our all-time greats reads like a who’s who of artistic dynamos. (Granted, we did also add Piers Morgan into that talent pool too, so our track record is far from perfect…)
One area that has perhaps more than any other helped shape the image of the UK internationally is how it has been depicted in movies.
The vision of our green and moderately pleasant land that has been portrayed in films is often the first impressions many from overseas will have of our way of life. Whether they are entirely accurate or not is up for debate of course. Are all men as charming as Hugh Grant? Are all our high schools as magical as Hogwarts? It’s a tough call.
Regardless of its accuracy, the Great Britain seen on the movie screen is out there and waiting to be explored – go visit them and, let’s be honest, shamelessly take selfies in front of them. Here are just a few to get you inspired:
The Harry Potter Collection
Over the course of making the eight Harry Potter films, the whole length and breadth of the UK was utilised to bring the wizarding world alive. For fans of the movies that means there are countless opportunities to relive their favourite moments.
You can start off in London and, much like Potter himself, begin proceedings at King’s Cross Station. Little tip though; don’t go looking for the entrance to Platform 9 ¾ between platforms 9 and 10, those two platforms aren’t actually adjacent. Instead you’ll need to make your way over to platforms 4 and 5 where the station scenes were actually shot. Other London based Potter highlights include the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron in London’s Victorian Leadenhall market, and Australia House which doubled for the interior of Gringotts bank.
Leaving London behind, you can take an hour-long train journey over to the grounds of Oxford University where you will be spoiled for choice for Potter related locations. The ornate Bodleian Library was utilised for Hogwarts’ Library and Hospital Wing, New College’s cloisters appeared in The Goblet of Fire and all sorts of locales at Christ Church College have stood in for Hogwarts at various points. Such is their abundance at Oxford University, there’s even a handy Harry Potter Trail you can follow to make the most of these grand buildings.
Moving north you can also visit the magnificent grounds of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland which doubled for Hogwarts in the first two movies and even take part in a broomstick lesson in the same spot where Harry had his first one. As a final treat, you can also visit the picturesque surroundings of Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire. This is the idyllic beach where Shell Cottage was located in The Deathly Hallows and while the cottage is long gone, you can still stare longingly out to sea and take a moment to think of poor Dobby.
Amazingly that’s only a handful of the Potter locations that are dotted around the UK. Die-hard fans could quite easily fill several days of travel if they want to take them all in.
The Rom-Com Collection
If you’re a fan of either charmingly befuddled British gentlemen or perhaps loveably hapless British women, then the great British rom-com has certainly served you well over the years. When it comes to rain-soaked declarations of love, nobody does it better than us.
Should a lovestruck mood take you, therefore, there are some specifically dedicated rom-com tours around London that will show you locations from the likes of Four Weddings (stand on the Thames Path where Charles made his David Cassidy speech), Notting Hill (get your picture taken by the famous blue door) and the three Bridget Jones movies (including both locations where Hugh Grant and Colin Firth had gentlemanly fisticuffs).
These inner-city London tours are also a great way to get to see our capital city in all its glory. Many of its major landmarks have appeared in rom-coms and all other sorts of British movies down the years and as a result, wandering around them almost feels like visiting a film set in itself.
Edgar Wright’s Comedy Flicks
Here’s one for the comedy connoisseurs amongst you to enjoy. Undoubtedly one of Britain’s leading cinematic lights in recent years has been Edgar Wright and his much loved “Cornetto trilogy”. Well, what a way to see more of the real England, with its tranquil village greens and local pubs; visit some of the sights from these comedy favourites. Granted, in the case of Shaun of the Dead, this would mostly mean visiting several fairly innocuous inner city London locations such as the former Duke of Albany pub which is now a block of flats and stood in for the legendary Winchester Tavern.
Luckily once we move on to Hot Fuzz the choice of venue gets far more appealing. The village of Sandford may have carried a sinister edge in the movie, but in real life, picture-postcard Wells, aka the smallest city in Britain, is a wonderful historic place filled with picturesque streets and beautiful buildings and surrounded by miles of relaxing countryside. It’s a perfect spot for a quiet weekend away and a taste of English country life. (While there are no direct trains to Wells, there are plenty of connecting bus services from nearby cities such as Bristol and Bath.)
If you fancy a slightly less quiet weekend away, you can also visit Welwyn Garden City and nearby Letchworth Garden City both of which are reachable directly by train. Once there you are practically duty bound to attempt to recreate the infamous golden mile pub crawl from The World’s End. Truth be told though, a few of them aren’t actually real pubs, so you may want to sneak a few non-movie pubs in as well just to keep yourself topped up.
Films Set in The Great British Countryside
The UK isn’t just famous for its bustling cities of course; it’s also blessed with more than its fair share of beautiful countryside. The UK depicted in postcards and on nostalgic TV shows is one of rolling green hills, roving herds of sheep and astonishingly posh people living lives of unspeakable luxury. Luckily this vision of a bygone Britain is one not forgotten by the filmmaking community either. As a result, across the British countryside you’ll find countless movie locations worthy of a visit.
For fans of period drama there is no shortage of grand country houses that are available to walk around and feel bad about your own hovel of a home. From Antony House in Cornwall that was used in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire that featured in Shakespeare in Love, Ham House in Surrey from Anna Karenina and most grandly of all, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire which took centre stage in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. A venue in fact rumoured to have influenced Jane Austen herself when penning the original novel.
For classic comedy fans meanwhile you can take a walk around the isolated Sleddale Hall in rural Cumbria, the remote getaway from the cult classic Withnail and I. There you can enjoy the local countryside and take in the great British outdoors in hopefully a slightly less inebriated state than the film’s protagonists chose.
Whether you want to see the lively bustling heart of Britain’s capital or prefer the more serene side of British country life, chances are there’s a film location which was utilised for that very reason. If you’re going to explore Britain and want to see more of the wonderful contrasts it has to offer, then we recommend letting your cinematic eye be your guide.
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Written by Rob Keeling. Rob is a freelance writer based in Manchester. He writes about movies, TV and beyond for a variety of publications. Find him on Twitter @R_Keeling.