Films Set In West Dorset Part Four – Weymouth And Portland

Oliver Reed Weymouth 1961

Did you see my other posts about movies with locations around West Dorset?  I’m concluding here with Weymouth and Portland. The films are mainly war films, including the 2017 summer blockbuster, Dunkirk. Not exclusively though, that’s a picture of Oliver Reed in Weymouth above, taken during the filming of Hammer Horror The Damned (see below).

Weymouth and Portland

In Which We ServeWeymouth and Portland have been used for several war and sea based dramas. Noel Coward, John Mills, and Richard Attenborough starred in the wartime drama In Which We Serve, a patriotic war film made in 1942 directed by Noel Coward and David Lean, with scenes filmed around Portland.

Cruel Sea Poster

The film adaptation of Nicholas Montsarrat’s novel The Cruel Sea (Ealing, 1953) gave a first screen role to Donald Sinden and follows the adventures of the frigate Compass Rose, under Captain Jack Hawkins during the Second World War. Barry Norman described it in his list of the Top 100 Films as “a compelling study of ordinary men doing their best in extreme circumstances”. It is not set locally, but Portland was used to film some scenes. Portland Race was used for its rough waters to portray the “cruel sea” itself (the North Atlantic in winter). Portland Docks were seen in the scene where Donald Sinden emerges exhausted after being all night watching the radar plot, and later when Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden go to inspect their new frigate. The Harbour is seen in the final shots, when the frigate anchors for the last time.

The ship that died of shame - Richard AttenboroughThe Ship That Died of Shame (Ealing, 1955) is a black-and-white crime film starring Richard Attenborough, George Baker and Bill Owen. This story, also by Nicholas Montsarrat (although his book is not set locally), featured three demobbed sailors who rescue their old motor gun boat from the scrapyard and use it for smuggling along the south coast. It was filmed around Poole Harbour, Poole Quay, Weymouth waterfront and other places along the coast.

The Key 1958The Third Man’s director Carol Reed later directed The Key, a 1958 British war film set in 1941 during the Battle of the Atlantic. An American salvage tug captain now in the Royal Navy (William Holden) becomes involved with a beautiful Swiss-Italian woman (Sophie Loren) after being given the key to a flat. Again Portland Docks was used to replicate the wartime dockyard and  the esplanade at Weymouth was converted to look as if it was during wartime too.

The Heroes of TelemarkVarious town, dockside, and ferryboat scenes were filmed at Poole and Weymouth in another war film, The Heroes of Telemark (1965) in which the lead character (Kirk Douglas) hijacks the ship to cross the North Sea so he can obtain British help. The sea crossing / minefield scene was filmed in Weymouth Bay.

Dunkirk PosterIn 2016 filming took place in Weymouth harbour and Swanage for this summer’s blockbuster Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan’s depiction of the 1941 Dunkirk evacuation stars Tom Hardy, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy,Mark Rylance and and One Direction’s Harry Styles. Having filmed on-location in France and Holland as well as Dorset, Nolan has been at pains to impart an authenticity to the film by using outdoor sets to recreate the sights, sounds and feeling of the operation. Not so accurate though, the Jurassic Skyline, only built in 2012, can be seen for a moment in the film’s trailer!

Colin Firth in The MercyIn 2015 Colin Firth was spotted on Portland filming scenes for The Mercy. It is based on the true story of the disastrous attempt by the amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst to complete in a race to sail around the world  in 1968, and his subsequent attempts to cover up his failure. The film is (finally!) due for release in February 2018. A local paper reported at the time that Colin Firth “appeared at Chesil Cove around 6pm dressed in a yellow sou’wester. A set had been built on the promenade and Firth filmed a scene where he climbs the mast of a yacht in a storm.”

The Damned Poster 1963Oliver Reed, Macdonald Carey and Shirley Anne Field starred in the Hammer Studios “apocalyptic sci-fi classic” The Damned (1963), based on H.L. Lawrence’s novel The Children of Light. The film follows a tourist in Weymouth as he gets mixed up in a military plot where radioactive children are kept hidden from the world in a secret cliff side military base. A biography of it’s director, US expatriate Joseph Losey (a 50s refugee from the Hollywood blacklist), mentions how he was “drawn to the two locations, hand-picked in Dorset: Portland Bill, a strange, bleak peninsula, and Weymouth, the old-fashioned seaside town.”  The film is generally reckoned to be the strangest Hammer one ever made. Filmed in May and June 1961, it was not released in Britain for two years, and only then in a cut-down version. It has since become something of a cult film.

And finally, back with the 1967 adaption of Far from the Madding CrowdBathsheba and Troy meet up again on the seafront in front of the Royal Hotel on the Esplanade in Weymouth, and make a sudden decision to get married.

Have a look at this short video to see Weymouth seafront in the movie, plus a dashing Terence Stamp in his prime. Not a bad sight to finish on!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this round-up of films with West Dorset locations. Maybe you’ve been reminded of a film you haven’t seen in years? Next time you watch one see if you can spot any of the local sights. If you’re a film fan why not combine your interest with some holiday sightseeing. Explore the Jurassic Coast and beautiful countryside whilst you track down a film location or two. If you haven’t booked somewhere to stay we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage or head to our Enquire and Book page for availability, the rates and how to book.

Films Set In West Dorset Part Three – Lyme Regis

The French Lieutenant's Woman 1981

Did you see my previous posts about films with scenes in West Dorset? This time we head west to Lyme Regis, most notably seen in adaptations of John Fowles and Jane Austen books, and in particular that famous scene. Why not head to Lyme Regis where you can check out the film locations in real life?

Lyme Regis

West Dorset is the central setting and a backdrop for a relentless manhunt by German agents operating on British soil in London and Dorset in the classic thriller novel Rogue Male written by Geoffrey Household in 1939. The book was reissued in 2014 to mark it’s 75th anniversary. The geography of West Dorset described in the book can be followed on a real map, including a local holloway.

Manhunt Poster 1941This first screen version, renamed Man Hunt (1941), was directed by the great German director Fritz Lang and shot entirely on soundstages and Hollywood-backlot studio sets. These were described as “hilariously inaccurate English backgrounds” in Halliwell’s Film Guide. The film is of local interest for the finale. Unlike the novel only the climactic final reel is set in Dorset, on Lyme Regis Undercliff, where cornered rogue-gentleman Walter Pidgeon cleverly dispatches smooth-talking Nazi agent George Sanders.
Peter 0Toole in Rogue MaleA more authentic remake, called Rogue Male, was produced in the 1970s by the BBC, starting Peter O’Toole.

In 2016 it was announced that Benedict Cumberbatch is to star in a new film adaptation of the book but it’s all gone quiet on this since.

French Lieutenant's Woman 1981Lyme Regis resident John Fowles saw his book The French Lieutenant’s Woman made into a classic film (1981) starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, all filmed in Lyme Regis. One of the most memorable moments in cinema history, the scene with a solitary Meryl Streep standing at the end of the Cobb wall, in her hooded cape and waves crashing all around, made Lyme world-famous. Rumour has it that it was actually a stunt man dressed in her cloak!

Persuasion 2007Jane Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion, is in part set in Lyme Regis. Chapters 11 to 14 are set in the seaside town with the characters, who arrive in November, describing the out-of-season holiday resort. A cautionary tale with the character Louisa Musgrove “taken up lifeless” after falling on the pavement of the Lower Cobb when jumping off steps there. The book has been adapted for film several times, all with scenes filmed in Lyme. Versions include a 1995 BBC film and a 2007 ITV one. Netflix’s version, released 2022, with modern-day language and “fleabag”-style breaking the fourth wall, filmed scenes in Lyme and Freshwater Beach.

The Boat that Rocked poster 2010The Boat That Rocked, a 2009 British comedy film written and directed by Richard Curtis, was filmed at Portland Harbour, Castletown on Portland, Lyme Regis and Kimmeridge. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost and Kenneth Branagh all play pirate radio DJ’s. It is set in the 1960s when the pirate radio stations broadcast music from ships moored just outside British territorial waters.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite 2020Ammonite (2020) is a romantic drama inspired by the life of British palaeontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and her relationship with Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan), reimagined with some artistic licence as a love affair. Many of the scenes are set in Lyme Regis. The town was given an 1800s makeover for filming, including Georgian house fronts being erected in front of some of the local buildings. Scenes were also shot at Eype and Charmouth Beaches.

Lydia Eve in Bridport harbourLocation filming of Wonka (2023) took place in Lyme Regis in October 2021. Starring Hollywood star Timothée Chalamet in the title role, the fantasy musical follows a young Willy Wonka as he becomes the world’s greatest inventor, magician and chocolatier. Lyme Regis’ harbour offered the location for where the boat carrying Willy lands. On the first day of filming in Lyme Chalamet was seen in full Willy Wonka costume walking along The Cobb carrying a cane and a suitcase. He was later seen riding on top of a truck which read Moreau & Fils. Matt Lucas and Peep Show star Paterson Joseph were also spotted. Lyme Regis proved a challenging location as the working port is home to many small fishing businesses. Production had to shut down the harbour for three days, stopping all access in and out, which meant negotiating with 40 different companies to compensate for lost earnings.

Scenes were shot on the historic vessel Lydia Eva, which is the world’s last surviving steam-powered herring drifter. It was covered in artificial snow during the two days of filming. See the photo of the boat taken while it was moored in West Bay prior to it’s starring role in Wonka.

If you’ve read this and want to see some of the film locations for yourself but haven’t booked somewhere to stay, then we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage or head to our Enquire and Book page for availability, the rates and how to book. For more film locations in West Dorset here’s a link to Weymouth and Portland – The Finale!

Films Set In West Dorset Part Two – Inland

Sleuth at Athelhampton House 1971

Did you see my recent post about film locations along the Jurassic Coast?  This time we move inland, including movies filmed in the historic manor houses and grounds of Mapperton and Athelhampton. Seen the film? Why not take a trip and visit one of these stately homes and gardens to experience the scenic locations in real life. Mapperton House is less than 20 minutes drive away from West Bay, just 5 miles northeast of Bridport. Athelhampton is about 40 minutes drive away, 5 miles east of Dorchester. Perhaps extend your visit and spend some time exploring Dorset’s county town, or the Iron Age fort of Maiden Castle, 2 miles south of Dorchester.

Mapperton House

RestorationMapperton House has been the backdrop for several period dramas. The 1995 film Restoration was filmed at Mapperton House and Forde Abbey (in Somerset). It is a costume drama starring Robert Downey Jr., Meg Ryan, Sam Neill and Hugh Grant. Set in the 1660s, Robert Downey Jr. plays a young doctor who falls out of favour with Charles II.

More recently the 2020 film version of Rebecca has inspired fans to flock to Mapperton House after it was used as a location for Manderley, the (Cornish!) mansion central to Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel.

Gwyneth Paltrow in EmmaThe adaption of Jane Austin’s Emma (1996), the tale of love and match-making, starred Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam and Ewan McGregor. It was filmed in several Dorset and Somerset locations, including Mapperton House.

Far from the Madding Crowd 2105In the 2015 film of Hardy’s Far from The Madding Crowd the house was transformed into Everdene Farm, the farmhouse Bathsheba inherits. Mapperton’s elegant front courtyard was turned into a mud-caked 19th century farmyard for the filming.

Athelhampton House

Tom Jones 1963Tom Jones, the 1963 adaptation of the Henry Fielding classic, was filmed in twelve separate locations in Dorset and Somerset including Athelhampton House, Cerne Abbas, Beaminster and Nettlecombe (Somerset). It starred Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Edith Evans and Joan Greenwood. Tom Jones is set in 18th century Somerset and tells the story of a baby abandoned at a country manor who is raised by a kindly squire.

Sleuth at Athelhampton 1971Athelhampton House and gardens were used as the main location in the 1972 mystery thriller Sleuth starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. The house played the role of a large stately home in the Wiltshire countryside, belonging to Andrew Wyke (Olivier), a crime fiction author who invites hairdresser Milo Tindle (Caine) to his home after learning of his wife’s infidelity with him. A lethal game of cat and mouse follows and the film has one of cinema’s most memorable endings. Incidentally, the maze in the top picture was built in the grounds for the film, as were the gargoyles along the driveway in the opening shot. and the house interior was recreated in Pinewood Studios.

Cate Blanchett in ElizabethThe 15th century house was also used in 1998’s film Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett, loosely based on the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign.

From Time to Time 2010The children’s film From Time To Time (2009), directed by Julian Fellowes (who owns a manor house himself, West Stafford House near Dorchester) stars Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, and local resident Harriet Walter. A WWII evacuee goes to stay at an aunt’s manor house, filmed at Athelhampton House and Julian Fellowes own home, which he discovers to be a timewarp portal to a past age. Nearby Puddletown was used for church and village square scenes.

Eggerton Hill and Maiden Castle

Terence Stamp as TroyIn the original 1967 adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd Fanny’s meeting with Sergeant Troy (Terence Stamp) out with his Dragoons is up on the (then-unpaved) road over Eggardon Hill. Troy’s seduction-by-swordsmanship display takes place within Maiden Castle, south of Dorchester.

Ciaran Hinds in Mayor of Casterbridge TV SeriesThe 2003 TV film of The Mayor of Casterbridge starring Ciaran Hinds was filmed around Askerswell, Cerne Abbas, Maiden Castle, Stonebarrow and Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.


ComradesIn the 1830s a group of six Dorset farm workers formed a union in an attempt to win a fair wage. They called a strike and were arrested and sentenced to be transported to Australia for seven years. Known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, their story is central to trade union history. The film Comrades (1986) tells this story, with the first half of the film set in Dorset before the action moves to Australia. The village of Tolpuddle (8 miles east of Dorchester) had become too modern to be authentic for the 1830s setting and so the Tolpuddle scenes were actually filmed in the abandoned village of Tyneham in South Dorset (which had been taken over by the army after the Second World War). Other key scenes were shot in Dorchester where streets were dressed to look early Victorian, including hundreds of sheep. Half way up High Street West there is a plaque on the wall of the courthouse where the martyrs were tried and found guilty, and this was the location the film used for the same purpose. 

Salwayash, near Bridport

Tamara Drewe 2010Gemma Arterton starred in BBC TV adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbevilles in 2008 and returned to Dorset in 2010 to star in the film Tamara Drewe. This tale is a modern take on the Thomas Hardy novel Far from The Madding Crowd. Scenes were filmed in and around the picturesque village of Salwayash, near Bridport, with Arterton returning home to beguile the men of a small Dorset village.

If you’ve read this and want to see some of the film locations for yourself but haven’t booked somewhere to stay we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a a look inside the cottage or head to our Enquire and Book page for availability, the rates and how to book. Or stay tuned for the third instalment of movies with scenes around West Dorset. We’re off to Lyme Regis next…


Films Set In West Dorset Part One – Jurassic Coast

Far from the Madding Crowd at Eype 2015

When I read that this summer’s blockbuster film Dunkirk has some scenes filmed in Weymouth it prompted me to look into what other films have West Dorset locations. Filmmakers have been drawn to West Dorset over the years by the unspoilt countryside, coast, picturesque villages and historic houses. Notably the area is the backdrop for several period dramas, in particular adaptations of Thomas Hardy’s novels where the scenery is as integral to the story as the plot and the characters.

There’s too many films for just one post so I’ll split them over a few, grouped by locations in West Dorset. First up, movies with scenes set along the Jurassic Coast but not including Lyme Regis, Portland and Weymouth, they’ll need a separate post or two. Next time you watch one of these films see if you can spot the local sights. Or why not explore the beautiful local coastline by tracking down some of the film locations?

Jurassic Coast

Small Back Room 1949 - on Chesil bankThe British film-making team of Powell and Pressburger made The Small Back Room in 1949, a psychological drama. It’s famous for a rather gloomy look at the war effort and its twenty minute bomb-defusing finale. Michael Powell said he made the film specifically to use Chesil Bank as both a location and a story setting. Dorset’s now-vanished Abbotsbury Station appears in the film. You can also see St Catherine’s Chapel overlooking Portland and Chesil beach itself, where the bomb-defusing scene takes place.

Dam Busters PosterDespite local tourism claims, none of 1954’s The Dam Busters dramatic scenes were shot in Dorset. However “bouncing bomb” inventor Barnes Wallis acted as the film’s technical advisor and his own 1942 actual footage of test-drops of dummy bombs over the Fleet Lagoon was used throughout, including in the final raid scenes. The Fleet Lagoon thus ‘doubled’ for the real German dam-lakes in the final dams attack sequence.

The Navy Lark 1959 - West Bay HarbourThe Navy Lark, released in 1959, was filmed in and around West Bay. In it West Bay is a small fictitious channel island called Boonzey Island. Pier Terrace is the Naval Headquarters of the island. This was a spin off from a BBC radio comedy series about an incompetent crew of a Royal Navy ship. Similar to the ‘Carry On’ and ‘Doctor’ films, this black and white film’s stars included Cecil Parker, Leslie Phillips, Hattie Jacques and Gordon Jackson.

Far from the Madding Crowd 1967The original 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch, was directed by John Schlesinger with Nicolas Roeg as cinematographer. Twenty locations across two counties were used including the Tithe Barn in Abbotsbury where Bathsheba’s wedding dance is held. This barn, dating from the 1390’s, is the largest thatched building in the world. It is now home to Abbotsbury Children’s Farm. Cottages in Abbotsbury village form the backdrop when Troy disembarks from a cart on his wedding night.

Bedknobs and BroomsticksDisney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks (1971) mixes animated characters into live-action settings, obviously aiming for the same success as the earlier Mary Poppins. It’s not set in Dorset but the script’s finale calls for a deserted area where an army of ghostly knights line up to oppose a German U-boat landing a raiding party. The ruined castle seen in these shots is clearly Corfe Castle. One scene is said to use the old railway station at West Bay. However the entire film was shot in Disney’s studios in California! Dorset backdrops were courtesy of plate shot technology, where a photograph is applied to a glass plate which is then positioned to appear as the actual background to a scene.

The Scarlet Tunic 1998The Scarlet Tunic, a version of Hardy’s fact-based tragic short story of the Napoleonic Wars era entitled The Melancholy Hussar Of The German Legion, is an independent low-budget film made in 1998. Filmed at Chideock, Seatown and Bridport using a local crew, it was admired for its photography and scenery but generally reviews were poor and it received little distribution.

The Burrows in Harry PotterThe swampy reed beds of the fleet lagoon near Abbotsbury Swannery were used as the entrance to the Weasley family home in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The filming took place in 2007 in a huge field of reeds less than half a mile west of the Swannery with body doubles used instead of the principal actors. To create the studio set filmmakers harvested lots of reeds and moved them to Leavesden Studios for the shots where you can clearly see the actors.

Far from the Madding Crowd Poster 2015The most recent film version of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene was filmed in several locations around the county. West Dorset residents took part as extras on the film. The cliffs over which Gabriel Oak’s (Matthias Schoenaerts) sheep are driven by the out-of-control young sheepdog are just down the coast from West Bay at Eype (see top picture).

On Chesil Beach 2018The film On Chesil Beachadapted by Ian McEwan from his own book, is due to be released early 2018. It is set in the early 1960s and centres on a young couple who spend a fraught wedding night at a hotel there. It stars Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle as the couple, with Samuel West and Emily Watson also in the cast. Principal photography began in October 2016 on Chesil Beach. There is no actual hotel there.

If you’ve read this and want to see some of the film locations for yourself but haven’t booked somewhere to stay we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage or head to our Enquire and Book page for availability, the rates and how to book. Or keep on reading. In the next post find out about some of the movies filmed inland in West Dorset, including those with scenes at Mapperton and Athelhampton House. Coming soon to a screen near you!

est Dorset’s unspoilt countryside, coast, picturesque villages and historic houses has made it an ideal location for many films, in particular various period dramas and especially adaptions of Hardy novels.