Movie-Star Britain

Michael Leech

British Tourist Authority

Film-stars and directors alike are finding Britain too good to resist, with a surprising number of movies having been made there recently. Stately homes and other features of the country's rich heritage plus the beautiful countryside provide backdrops far superior to Hollywood-style sets. As Britain celebrates a century of cinema, now is the time to come and follow in the stars' footsteps. Unlike most film studios, many of these locations are open to visitors. A new free guide from the British Tourist Authority, The Vauxhall Movie Map, lists hundreds of film and TV locations to visit throughout the country.

Emma Thompson has won two prestigious Golden Globe awards for Sense and Sensibility, the Jane Austen novel for which she wrote the screenplay, and in which she stars as Elinor Dashwood. The film uses several stately homes in England's west country. Saltram House near Plymouth, a white stucco 18th century house containing priceless works of art, became the Dashwood family home, while Montacute House near Yeovil in Somerset, with its profusion of gables, obelisks and turrets, doubled for the Palmers' estate. Other 'stars' of the film, aside from Hugh Grant, were Mompesson House in historic Salisbury and Wilton House just outside the city.

Scotland, and particularly its dramatic highland scenery, has been popular with film-makers of late. Loch Ness, a romantic comedy starring Ted Danson and Joely Richardson, was filmed around the lake of the same name near Inverness, where a water-monster is said to lurk. Picturesque Eilan Donan Castle and Loch Torridon on the West Coast were also used.

One highland setting was used for two films. Glen Nevis, near Fort William in the Highlands, played host to Mel Gibson's Braveheart, set in medieval Scotland, followed by Rob Roy with Liam Neeson in the lead. For Braveheart, a complete ancient village was built, and Nevis Bakery in the town provided authentic bread.

Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, particularly the historic Royal Mile, provides backdrops for the saga of Mary Reilly, in which Julia Roberts plays the maid to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In fact, the city was home to both the author of the Jekyll and Hyde tale, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the real-life character on whom the story was based, William Brodie, who was a city councillor by day and a master thief by night.

Hugh Grant, star of Four Weddings and a Funeral, the most successful British comedy ever made, has been working in Wales on two films, including the lavish costume drama Restoration. Its unusual locations, set in the time of King Charles II in the 17th century, include spectacular dramatic sequences of London's Great Fire of 1666. Much of the film was shot at Caerphilly Castle, a 13th century fortress near the Welsh capital, Cardiff.

Perhaps appropriate to Wales, where words can be long, Grant has also made a humorous film with an extended title - The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain. Based at Llanrhaeadr-Ym-Mochnant in north Wales, it uses nearby Moelfre as the 'mountain'.

Also in Wales, Richard Gere was in scenes for the romantic movie, First Knight, based on the Arthurian myth, and filmed in and around Snowdonia National Park, with its lakes and mountains. At Lake Trawsfynydd, Guinevere (Julia Ormond) was brought along a 'causeway' to her home by King Arthur (Sean Connery).

Welshman Sir Anthony Hopkins (who won an Oscar for Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs), directing for the first time, chose a country house in the Welsh harbour town of Abersoch for August, based on Chekhov's Uncle Vanya.

The Oscar-winning The Madness of King George used a variety of magnificent English locations to depict 18th century backgrounds for Alan Bennett's tale of a tottering monarch, King George III (Nigel Hawthorne).

Scenes were shot in three stately homes: Syon House in the western suburbs of London, Wilton House near Salisbury, both with grand interiors and gardens, and the Duke of Norfolk's vast Arundel Castle in Sussex. You might also want to visit the National Theatre in London where the original play was first presented (also starring Hawthorne). Next door is the Museum of the Moving Image, a must for movie fans.

Another English king is the subject of a new movie, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III. Starring Ian McKellen as the bard's most famous villain, it is set, remarkably, in the 1930s. Director Richard Loncraine has used more than 40 exotic locations including London's neo-Gothic railway terminus, St Pancras, which becomes a palace, and the oriental-style Royal Pavilion in Brighton on the south coast in imaginative ways.

The Remains of the Day, a moving yet essentially trivial tale of a retired butler (Anthony Hopkins) was shot in several stately homes to suggest just one. You can recapture the film in several West Country locations: Powderham Castle in Devon, Corsham Court in Wiltshire with its renowned picture gallery, and Dyrham Park near Bristol. An elegant seaside town in the West Country was base for one of the best-loved films of recent years. The town was Lyme Regis, and the movie was The French Lieutenant's Woman, with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.

A new film version of the Charlotte Bronte classic Jane Eyre starring William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg has used romantic battlemented Haddon Hall near Matlock in Derbyshire under the eye of director Franco Zeffirelli. Shadowlands is one of many films and TV series to use the colleges of the university city of Oxford; its story of an academic's autumnal love affair was based on that of author CS Lewis.

Though it is not possible to guarantee you will bump into your favourite film stars in Britain, you can explore and enjoy the settings that attracted them to its shores.

Visit the British Tourist Authority's interactive 'Movie Map' Web site via

Printed copies of the map are available from BTA offices around the world.