The South Western Railway region is a fantastical area that crawls with magic and is often overtaken by war. Animals can talk here, alien forces do battle over ancient monuments and feudal monarchs can find true love.
Sound a bit far-fetched? Not if you look at the region through the prism of the movies. Our region is scattered with famous film locations, and many of them are easily reached by train. Here are just some of our favourites, many of which also happen to be great places for a day out. So pack your popcorn and set off on our SWR trail of movie discovery…
Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone - Privet Drive
Station: Martins Heron
Just a 4-minute walk from the station is Picket Post Close (turn right on to Whitton Road, then left on to Setley way and it’s a little way along on your right. Or just follow the Japanese tourists.) In the fantastical Harry Potter movies, this seemingly ordinary little suburban cul-de-sac doubles brilliantly as… well… an ordinary little suburban cul-de-sac – where Harry lives with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley. Number 12 in real life was number 4 in blockbuster debut movie Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, and rumour has it that the cost of sealing off the street was so prohibitive that for later films they replicated the entire street on the studio lot instead.
Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince - Surbiton Station
The grade II-listed modernist classic that is Surbiton station was the location for a pivotal scene in brooding masterpiece Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince. A disillusioned Harry has been riding the trains and finds himself in the real-life Cafe Chaud on the station platform. He flirts with the waitress and arranges to meet her after work, but then Dumbledore appears and whisks him off on an adventure, leaving Harry’s disappointed date behind. Duty before pleasure, Harry.
Chocolat, Les Miserables, Vanity Fair, The Fantastic Mr Fox - Bath
Station: Bath Spa
Bath’s worth a visit anyway, but unsurprisingly the Georgian architectural masterpiece is the backdrop for many films. Johnny Depp loved filming steamy romance Chocolat in Bath so much that he bought a house in the city and became well-known in the local pubs. Ace musical Les Miserables used the dramatic backdrop of Pulteney Bridge and Weir for Javert’s suicide, perky costume caper Vanity Fair turned the whole of Great Pulteney Street into a film set for several days, and the bizarrely brilliant Fantastic Mr Fox immortalises Bath’s own independent cinema, The Little Theatre, which is faithfully recreated in the film’s foxy finale.
Transformers: The Last Knight, Thor: The Dark World - Stonehenge
Need a slightly clichéd setting for an alien portal? No worries. Stonehenge has you covered. For the surprisingly bleak Thor: The Dark World it was the backdrop for the discovery of a naked Dr Selvig, driven bonkers by Loki’s mind control, while the otherwise ho-hum Transformers: The Last Knight used it as the scene for an exciting epic battle with the Decepticons. Stonehenge is used to this sort of attention, having appeared in Power Rangers, Dr Who, and many others (just don’t mention the awful 2014 TV movie Stonehenge Apocalypse. Oops, we did).
Stan & Ollie, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society - Bristol Harbourside
Station: Bristol Temple Meads
Steve Coogan vehicle Stan and Ollie took over Bristol Harbourside and transformed it into an Irish harbour for a scene where Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy arrive in Ireland on their final tour. Vintage cruise ship the MV Balmoral, which moors in the harbour, also stars in the movie. At almost the same time, and perhaps rather oddly, the crew of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society opted to turn Bristol harbourside into Weymouth harbourside for the shooting of their adaption of the surprise literary hit. We say oddly, as Weymouth itself was considered good enough to be Weymouth in Dunkirk…
Dunkirk: Weymouth Harbour, Swanage Railway
Stations; Weymouth, Wareham
Shot in many locations across the south, the magnificent historical epic Dunkirk makes a special star out of Weymouth Harbour as the departure point for Mark Rylance’s plucky character and his little wooden boat, though eagle-eyed locals have pointed out that the Jurassic Skyline tower, briefly glimpsed in the trailer, was not around in the 1940s. Swanage railway was used extensively throughout the film, whenever a good old steam train was needed.
Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Eyes Wide Shut, Downton Abbey - Highclere Castle
Okay, so Sunday night slob-out favourite Downton Abbey isn’t a movie (yet!), but fans of the series will immediately recognise Highclere Castle. Construction of this Jacobean masterpiece started in 1679, and generations of owners have added to its splendour since. As well as playing the titular role in Downton Abbey, the house has been the setting for many other movies and TV series including the highly-acclaimed Bollywood box-office record breaker Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Stanley Kubrick’s saucy slow-burner Eyes Wide Shut. It was also the backdrop for Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s Jeeves & Wooster TV series.
Gladiator - Alice Holt Forest
One of the Forestry Commission’s most-visited attractions, with more than a quarter of a million people coming every year, the beautiful royal forest of Alice Holt gives really great tree. Once famous for its oaks, which built the navy, Alice Holt is now predominantly planted with conifers and made the perfect setting for the memorable opening sequence of muscular history romp Gladiator. This popular location has also appeared in the charming Golden Compass, the overblown Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, phenomenal miniseries Band of Brothers and even stood in for the jungle in ancient TV series It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
Mrs Brown - Osbourne House
Station; Cowes, Isle of Wight
All right, so it’s a bit of an obvious one this. Where do you go to shoot a biopic of Queen Victoria? Why to her very own beloved palatial summer residence on the Isle of Wight, of course. And that’s just what the producers of simmering will-they-won’t they-did-they historical romance Mrs Brown did. It’s worth a visit though, whether you’re a fan of the film or not, as this incredible stately home transports you to another era. Talking of other eras, the Isle of Wight is perhaps most closely identified with the 1973 musical That’ll Be The Day starring dewy-eyed glamour boy David Essex and a surprisingly effective Ringo Starr as wannabe rock’n’rollers and shot on location all over the Isle.
Tommy - South Parade Pier
So not a very modern film to finish off, but one that comes with a good story. Ken Russell’s magnificently bonkers rock opera Tommy was filmed across Portsmouth, and the ballroom scenes were shot on the South Pier. According to legend, while Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed were dancing, a real fire broke out causing £500,000 worth of damage to the pier. Ken’s canny crew continued filming and the impromptu fire scenes were put to good use in other sections of the film. While the pier was rebuilt afterwards, it was sadly not quite in the grand style it had been before.
Other locations you could visit: Try Wilton House in Salisbury, location of The Young Victoria, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility; Aldershot Military Barracks where the apocalyptic architecture has made it popular with the makers of World War Z and Quantum of Solace among others; Winchester Cathedral which had an unlikely starring role in The Da Vinci Code as the Vatican, Cumberland Lodge in Windsor which stood in for Sandringham House in The King’s Speech…
Images credit: Graham Hunt / Alamy Stock Photo