The Bridport Literary Festival And Books Inspired By West Dorset

Bridport Literary Festival Cover

If you love books and are interested in all things literary then the Bridport Literary Festival is the festival for you. This year it runs from the 4th to 11th November. An eclectic mix of writers of both fiction and non-fiction are coming to West Dorset to talk about their writing. It attracts audiences of all tastes and all ages from all over the county as well as visitors from much further afield. Most of its venues are in Bridport with a couple in Sladers Yard, just around the corner from our cottage.

Authors and Books Connected With West Dorset

Do you find that a familiarity with the locations in a book helps you picture the story more vividly? Do you like to visit the places mentioned in books you’ve enjoyed? The Literary Festival has authors and subjects from near and far but it has made me wonder about the authors who have been inspired by, and the books set within, the landscape of West Dorset. Here are some suggestions of books to read, and story locations to explore, during a holiday in the area.

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis in 1803 and 1804. She set several chapters of her final novel Persuasion (1817) in the seaside town. The main characters arrive in November, and the description of the out-of-season town is still recognisable today. The book’s dramatic events led to a flow of fans to the town. The poet Tennyson is said to have gone straight to the Cobb saying “Show me the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell!”

Thomas Hardy

Thomas HardyWith the rolling hills of the Dorset countryside often called Hardy Country, Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) probably requires no introduction. He is one of the greatest Victorian novelists and Dorset’s most famed author and poet.

Here’s a post which gives a brief account of his life and novels. It has useful links if you want to explore the towns and villages he knew so well and used as settings and inspiration for the “Wessex” of his tragic stories.

Falkner’s Moonfleet

MoonfleetA friend of Hardy, J. Meade Falkner (1858–1932) wrote Moonfleet, the classic children’s adventure tale of shipwrecks and smuggling, first published in 1898. He grew up in Dorset and based much of the story there, set a hundred years before his birth. The name Moonfleet is a merging of the old family name Mohune and the village of Fleet, by Chesil Beach. The headland in the book, called The Snout, is Portland Bill.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles 1st edition book coverArthur Conan Doyle‘s famous detective novel The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1901), featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes, takes place largely on Dartmoor in Devon. However it may have had several local sources of inspiration for the ghostly, murderous hound. Conan Doyle was staying at Parnham House near Beaminster when he first heard a mysterious hound baying in the night. Local folklore may have influenced the concept. There’s tales of a spooky “Black Dog of Uplyme”. Portlanders tell of a spectral black dog, “The Row Dog”, with large saucer shaped eyes prowling the island during the hours of darkness.

In Far From The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy drew on local belief that the black hound is a protector of vulnerable young women. Conan Doyle used this idea too. His ghostly hound appears first as a protector of a persecuted woman, forming the basis of the Baskerville curse.

The Tale of Little Pig Robinson by Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter sketch of LymeFor a smaller member of your family – West Dorset featured in the drawings of Beatrix Potter‘s final book, The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930). In 1904 she spent a family holiday in Lyme Regis, staying at the Mariners Hotel in Silver Street. During her time there Beatrix did a sketch in sepia ink of a steep street leading down to the sea. Years later it became the background drawing for the tale. She combined several Devon seaside towns and Lyme to create the settings of the story.

John Cowper Powys

John Cowper Powys (1872 – 1963) was a British philosopher, writer, lecturer, literary critic and poet. Weymouth Sands (1934) was the third of his “Wessex” novels, which include Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1932), and Maiden Castle (1936). Powys was an admirer of Thomas Hardy and these novels are set in Somerset and Dorset, part of Hardy’s mythical Wessex. As with Hardy’s novels, the landscape plays a major role in his works. This modern classic draws on his vivid childhood memories of the seaside town of Weymouth.

Critics consider Powys one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. An article in the Guardian describes his work as a “form of literary marmite”; he is not a writer everyone can stomach but admirers are always hungry for more. Consider yourself warned, his books do not sound like typical holiday reads.

Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male

Rogue Male CoverWest 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.

John Fowles

The author French Lieutenant's Woman 1981John Fowles (1926 – 2005) moved to Lyme Regis in 1968 and lived there for the rest of his life. His 18th century villa, Belmont, is now a holiday let.

Fowles set his most famous novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), in and around the town. The film of the book made Lyme’s Cobb harbour famous too. Remember Meryl Streep (or her stunt man!) standing hooded and windswept, staring out to sea?

The writer said that his 1963 book The Collector was based on “a bizarre real-life incident that happened in the 1950s” in Dorset.

Fowles was curator of the Lyme Regis Museum for ten years and did much to ensure its survival.

Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse in The Way Through The Woods

The Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter (1930-2017) includes one story, The Way Through The Woods (1992), partially set locally. Morse has gone on holiday to Lyme due to the area’s literary associations  saying”it’s where some of the scenes in Persuasion are set.” “And The French Lieutenant’s Woman”. He visits Dorchester’s Kings Arms Hotel (a Hardy site) and the County Museum there, Moreton Cemetery (grave of TE Lawrence) and stays in Lyme’s seafront Bay Hotel. While in Lyme, Morse meets a woman who calls herself Louisa Hardinge after Hardy’s own lost love.

Colin Dexter said Lyme Regis was his “favourite place on Earth”.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan‘s tells the tale of a disastrous honeymoon, set in the early 1960s, in his novel On Chesil Beach. It was nominated for the Booker Prize award in 2007.

Chesil Beach is the 18-mile shingle spit, part of the larger Jurassic coast. In an interview McEwan mentioned that he took a couple of stones from the beach when researching the novel. He was later criticised for removing items from a site of special scientific interest!

Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier

The life of Lyme Regis’s Mary Anning, the greatest fossil hunter ever, is captured in the novel Remarkable Creatures (2014) by author Tracey Chevalier. Read this post to learn more.

Minette Walters

Top crime writer Minette Walters lives in Whitcombe, near Dorchester. With a change of genre to historical fiction, The Last Hours (2017) focuses on a small Dorset estate. Walters set the story in 1348 at the time of the Black Death, a subject she became fascinated with after learning that it entered England nine miles from where she lives, at what is now Weymouth. (One historical fact unlikely to encourage visitors to this part of the country!)

Recommendations

Can you recommend any other books inspired by the beautiful landscape and coast in this area? If so I’d love to hear about them. Please leave a reply below.  

Stay with Us for the Bridport Literary Festival

Do you want to attend some of the events at the Bridport Literary Festival or explore some of the most beautiful literary heritage sights in England? If you do and you haven’t yet booked accommodation, we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.

Dorset Knobs

Dorset Knobs Close Up

With a name guaranteed to invoke much hilarity among children, Dorset knobs are a local speciality. Read on if you are interested in finding out more about them:

  • Originally Dorset knobs were made from leftover bread dough with added butter and sugar, hand-rolled and left to dry in the dying heat of the oven.
  • These days they are still made from bread dough which contains extra sugar and butter. They are rolled and shaped by hand and baked three times. Once cooked, they are roughly the size of a golf ball, very crumbly and rather like a dry, hard breadstick. They keep crisp and tasty in a tin for months. Don’t be fooled by the picture, they are much crispier than a bread roll.
  • It is thought their name comes from the hand-sewn Dorset knob buttons that were also made locally. They have also been compared, in size, to door knobs.
  • In the past there were a number of producers of Dorset knobs. Today the only firm to produce them commercially is Moores Biscuits of Morcombelake, four miles west of Bridport. They have been making them for more than 130 years.
  • The company makes roughly two million knobs a year but only during January and February. The 8 – 10 hour process means they are not economically viable to produce for longer. By the start of March the demand for sweet biscuits has increased again after the New Year lull and the company returns to its profitable and less labour-intensive biscuits.
  • The knobs are now baked in Moores factory in Bridport. Moores still has a Craft Bakery Shop in Morcombelake. Visitors can buy biscuits and knobs there and also look around their art gallery of West Country paintings and bakery bygones.
  • They can be eaten with cheese (traditionally Blue Vinny), dipped in tea or cider, or taken with honey and cream. This is known locally as thunder and lightning.
  • Dorset knobs were a favourite food of local author Thomas Hardy. He liked them with stilton cheese.
  • The Dorset Knob Throwing Festival has been held the first Sunday in May since 2008. As well as throwing them, other knob-related activities at the food festival include guess the weight of the knob, the knob and spoon race, knob darts and knob painting. Earlier this year the organisers announced that Moores thought that the festival had “run its course”. After the subsequent outcry they relented and said that the festival would be coming back as a biennial event in 2019, bigger and better.

Bag of Dorset knobs

  • Dorset knobs are normally sold in a bag or tin in Dorset delicatessens, farm shops and independent food stores. I think our nearest stockist is Groves Nursery. They would make a nice little present to say thank you to someone who has been watering your garden / feeding your goldfish / looking after your hamster (etc) while you holiday in West Dorset. But be warned, supplies are limited. When they’re gone, they’re gone, until next year anyway.

Holiday In Thomas Hardy Country

Thomas Hardy

Maybe you are a Thomas Hardy enthusiast, keen to see where he lived and visit the areas which inspired him? You’ll find that West Dorset makes an ideal base for doing just that.

To be honest I wouldn’t say Thomas Hardy is a favourite writer of mine. Perhaps the result of having his book The Trumpet Major drilled into me at school. A frustration with his characters when they don’t communicate, don’t say the one sentence that would sort everything out. Oh my, what miserable storylines! Did you see that depressing film Jude, made about twenty years ago?

Should I give him another chance? His life and work is so tied up with West Dorset. He is undoubtably Dorset’s most famous author and considered one of the greatest ever English novelists and poets. He created some of the strongest leading female characters in 19th century literature. So that’s a yes then. In the meantime I’ve been reading about him. Just google his name and you’re spoilt for choice, although you do come across the actor Tom Hardy a lot too. I’ve written a little here on the writer, an outline of his life with a focus on the links between it, West Dorset, and the “Wessex” of his novels. Some links are included to help with the planning of a visit to Hardy Country.

Thomas Hardy’s Life

Hardy's Cottage NTThomas Hardy was born in 1840 in a tiny Dorset hamlet called Upper Bockhampton (now Higher Bockhampton) near Dorchester. The cottage where he was born and brought up had been built of cob and thatch by his great-grandfather in 1800. Initially Hardy’s mother educated him at home where she introduced him to the classics. Aged eight he went to his first school at Bockhampton before attending the Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester. Hardy’s family couldn’t afford to send him to university so, aged sixteen, he started training as an architect in Dorchester. After moving to London in 1862 he began to write in his spare time.

After Thomas Hardy’s first novel was rejected by publishers in 1867 he turned to the “pastoral” for his subject matter. His intimate, first-hand knowledge of the countryside where he grew up was to be a major factor in his subsequent success.

Hardy lived in Weymouth in 1869 and between 1871 – 1872, working as an architect’s assistant. Here he wrote part of Under the Greenwood Tree.

In 1874 he wrote his fourth novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, at his parent’s cottage. He was so excited at times writing it that while out walking he had to grab a leaf or a stone on which to scribble phrases. In this book he introduced the idea of calling the region where his novels are set in the west of England “Wessex”.

Married in 1874, the Hardys moved from London to Yeovil, and then to Sturminster Newton in Dorset. Far from the Madding Crowd was successful enough for Hardy to give up architecture and pursue writing full-time. Over the next twenty-five years Thomas wrote ten more novels.

Max Gate NTIn 1885 Thomas and his wife moved into Max Gate on the outskirts of Dorchester, a house he designed and built by his brother. Hardy’s wife died there in 1912. Although they were estranged for the last twenty years, during which she lived up in the attic, her death had a traumatic effect on him. His eulogies to her written after her death are considered his peak poetic achievement. In 1914, aged 74, Hardy married his secretary who was 39 years his junior.

By 1928 when he died, aged 87, he was a celebrated grand old man of letters. He was buried in Westminster Abbey in Poet’s Corner. He had requested to be buried in Stinsford (his Mellstock) churchyard in the family plot. His heart was buried there with his first wife, later joined by his second wife after her death in 1937.

Thomas Hardy’s Works

Thomas Hardy is now regarded as one of the greatest of English novelists and poets. His complicated tales of thwarted desire and human failing, his memorable characters and evocative descriptions of recognisable places, have become classics.

Alongside Far from the Madding Crowd his fourteen published novels include Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887 and Hardy’s favourite), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and his final novel, Jude the Obscure (1895). His Complete Poems has been continuously in print since the 1920s.

Visit Hardy’s Homes

You can visit Hardy’s Cottage, the cottage where he was born and grew up. It is now owned by the National Trust. It sits next to Thorncombe Woods, an ancient woodland. This opens out onto heathland, the beginning of Hardy’s “Egdon Heath”. Tripadvisor reviews are very positive. They note that the National Trust volunteers in the cottage are very helpful and interesting, the cottage is fascinating and the garden is beautiful. The cafe by the car park is recommended too.

Max Gate is also a National Trust property, only fully opened to the public in 2010 with work still in progress. It is another “must see” for those interested in Thomas Hardy and giving an insight into his later life (only negative comments I can find are about the lack of a car park or tea room).

Explore Hardy’s Wessex

West Bay is an ideal base from which to explore some of the sites of the thinly disguised Wessex made famous in his stories and poems. Many of the features of Hardy’s descriptions still remain. A long distance (actually very long, 220 miles) footpath, the Hardy Way, links many of his favourite sites.

Bridport (Port Bredy) is a location which makes numerous appearances in Hardy’s works. It is the place the Squire retires to after the momentous events in Hardy’s witch story The Withered Arm. It also receives mentions in the short story The Fellow Townsmen and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Weymouth’s Esplanade, the Gloucester Lodge Hotel and Old Rooms are featured in The Trumpet-Major (1880), renamed Budmouth in the 1895 edition. Budmouth Regis makes an appearance in several other of his novels too.

The town of Beaminster (Emminster) is home of the Clare family in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and the place the destitute Tess walks to in order to seek help from her estranged in-laws. Going east from there on the Wessex Ridgeway, hidden in the verge, is the Cross-in-Hand stone pillar. Tess swears on it to Alex that she will never tempt him. The Acorn Inn (The Sow and Acorn) is in Evershot, where Tess eats her breakfast. Lovely views of Blackmoor Vale can be seen along the route.

Speculation about the location of Gabriel Oak’s original home has led some to suggest that nearby Eggardon Hill may have have been the model. Maiden Castle has strong connections with the Mayor of Casterbridge.

Mayor of Casterbridge HouseHardy’s home town of Dorchester is called Casterbridge in his books. Along with Hardy’s Cottage and Max Gate it is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in Hardy. A collection of Hardy relics is held in Dorchester’s museum, which includes a re-creation of his study. On a walk around Dorchester you will find buildings, geographical features and monuments connected with the great author. His statue is not far from County Hall.

What a treat if you are a Hardy fan, to visit West Dorset and explore some of the most beautiful literary heritage sights in England. If you’ve read all this and haven’t yet booked accommodation for your trip to the area, we’d love to welcome you to West Bay Cottage. Take a look inside the cottage if you wish, or head to our Book With Us page for availability, the rates and how to book.

Incidentally, if you are interested in finding out where the locations were for the 1960’s and the recent film versions of Far from the Madding Crowd check out this post,  this post and this one!  

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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. I’ll have to watch it again and keep a look out!

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.

Next time 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.