With its rolling countryside, prehistoric coastline and charming historic towns and villages, Dorset’s cinematic appeal is irrefutable. As a result, the region has been used as a backdrop to several major films and TV shows, and guests at both Summer Lodge Country House Hotel and Restaurant and The Acorn Inn can discover the settings for many memorable on-screen moments. From the elegant period mansion that played a part in a Jane Austen adaptation to a ship that had a starring role in a Richard Curtis comedy, here are the best films and TV series shot in Dorset.
This gripping drama charting Britain’s famous withdrawal from Dunkirk during May 1940 lurches from high-octane action to gripping heroic feats from start to finish. When thousands of soldiers are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk under relentless assault from the German military, the Royal Air Force and a brave crew of unlikely sailors come to their rescue. Glimpse striking peripheral shots of Weymouth’s windswept shores where some of the filming took place.
The Imitation Game
This bold cinematic take on the inspirational true tale of Alan Turing – AKA the father of modern computer science – wouldn’t be the masterpiece it is without its iconic setting: Bletchley Park in Sherborne. During the Second World War, this was where Turing and his colleagues worked against the clock to piece together from scratch a computer processor that would crack the Enigma code. Visit the historic estate today to discover fascinating exhibitions dedicated to the technological mastermind.
An acclaimed adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same name, Emma starred Gwyneth Paltrow as protagonist Emma Woodhouse, a woman intent on playing matchmaker for her friends. Much of the 1996 film was shot in Dorset, with scenes at ‘Hartfield’, Emma’s home, actually taking place at a house in Winterborne Came, just two miles from Dorchester. The village of Evershot, where The Acorn Inn is located, also served as the fictional village of ‘Highbury’ in the film. Renowned Dorset property Mapperton House in Beaminster was used as ‘Randalls’, the home of the Weston family, and Crichel House in Newtown was used as the exterior of ‘Donwell Abbey’, the home of Mr Knightley. Filming also took place in Stafford House at West Stafford, east of Dorchester, which is now the home of Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes.
Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)
Following the 1967 adaptation starring Julie Christie, Thomas Vinterberg’s Far From the Madding Crowd film was also shot in Hardy’s home county. Beautifully filmed with plenty of footage of the stunning Dorset countryside, Carey Mulligan takes on the role of Bathsheba Everdene in this 2015 production. Locations include the cliffs of Eype, near Bridport, where Gabriel Oak’s sheep meet a tragic in the story and Mapperton House which serves as the property Bathsheba inherits. The historic streets of Sherborne also feature as a filming location, including the magnificent interior of Sherborne Abbey.
World War Z
Brad Pitt docked at Lulworth Cove in 2013 to film the thrilling sci-fi action World War Z. Pounded by crashing waves and surrounded by panoramic hilly expanses, the spectacular beaches here are a fitting dramatic backdrop for the tense Hollywood blockbuster.
This much-loved television drama was entirely set in Dorset, and filmed there too. Starring David Tennant and Olivia Coleman as police detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller, the first series was aired in 2013, with a second series in 2015 and the third and final instalment in 2017. Writer Chris Chibnall explained that the story was intended as a ‘love letter to the scenery of the Jurassic Coast, which used key landmarks as part of its story. The landscape informs the drama: cliffs, the sea, the beach are all key elements of the story.’ The real-life town of West Bay becomes the fictional Broadchurch whilst the third series used additional local locations such as Littlebredy and Bridehead House, renamed as Axehampton House in the drama.
The Boat That Rocked
Directed by Richard Curtis, this comedy is set on a pirate radio station ship during the 1960s, and was filmed off the Dorset coast. Starring Rhys Ifans and Bill Nighy, the crew chose Timor Challenger, a former Dutch hospital ship that’s moored in Dorset’s Portland harbour, for the majority of the filming. Lyme Regis, Kimmeridge and Castletown were also used as filming location for this hit comedy.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Filmed in Lyme Regis, where the original John Fowles novel is set, this film adaptation featured an Oscar winning screenplay by playwright Harold Pinter and starred Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. The most memorable image from the film, Meryl Streep dressed in a black hooded cloak and looking out on stormy seas, is one that occurs on the town’s historic cobb. The cobb, which appears in works by both Fowles and Jane Austen, was built in the 13th century by Edward I as a curved breakwater in a bid to improve Lyme Regis’s harbour. The production also used much of the town scenery, including Broad Street and the Undercliff, the coastal land between Lyme Regis and Axmouth.
During your next say, explore Dorset’s most famous filming locations, which are only a short distance away from Summer Lodge Country House Hotel Restaurant and Spa and The Acorn Inn.