Why are Hollywood A-listers flocking to Somerset?
PUBLISHED: 11:40 15 October 2019
There’s usually a film or television crew at work somewhere in Somerset, so Bernard Bale speaks to the stars about why they love to return to our county
Later this year the BBC will be screening the fifth and last series of Poldark but its stars will miss their trips into Somerset for special scene filming. Wells has been a popular city and area for many films and TV series but it was especially a favourite of Poldark star Aidan Turner.
"We have filmed at Wells Cathedral of course, but also the Bishop's Palace, Wells Town Hall and the market place and it has been great," says Aidan. "Most of our filming has been in Cornwall for the landscape work and in the studios of course, but we loved visiting and working in Wells which is just a truly superb traditional English place and a great location.
"I am not surprised that it is popular for filming because it is so picturesque and the local people are really nice and helpful. They know you have a job to do, enjoy you being there but let you get on with it. There are some great shops and eateries too!"
Aidan is not the only heart-throb to visit Somerset for filming. Russell Crowe has been in the county too.
"We shot some of Les Miserables in Somerset and I got to visit Bath," he says. "Bath is fantastic, it has all the modern attributes of a city but it is like a step back into history when you walk around the older parts of the area. In the latter part of the movie, my character Javert jumps into the Seine in a fit of remorse.
"Well, the 'Seine' was actually the famous River Avon and the bridge was Pulteney Bridge, that amazing piece of architecture in Bath itself. I am hoping that someone will come up with another idea for something that would mean a return to Bath, I really enjoyed being there."
Keira Knightley has almost been a regular visitor to Somerset.
"I think my favourite moment was in Clevedon when we were filming some of Never Let Me Go," she says. "We had shot some scenes in the town and then we went to the beach alongside the pier. I recall that the weather was quite good and, as always, there was a lot of waiting around until you are called to do your bit. I spent most of that time with Carey Mulligan while Andrew Garfield was amusing himself doing some juggling.
"So there we were in costume, which was some raggy old clothes because we were playing teenagers who were meant to be a little scruffy and I thought 'Hey, this is great. We don't have to worry about wigs and long dresses. Clevedon is brilliant, we are at the seaside'!
"Some years later when we filmed The Duchess I was back in the county at Bath. I love Bath and it has had so many great films shot there. I remember especially being in The Royal Crescent, which is really iconic. This time is was all massive gowns and heavy wigs, so I couldn't really slop out anywhere. Lovely to be there though."
Bath and Wells have both proved to be internationally- favourite film locations and Wells Cathedral has been particularly popular although some eyebrows were raised when it was used as a setting for 'Hellboy'.
On a less controversial note Hollywood came to Wells for The Huntsman series when the Winters War episode was filmed at both Wells Cathedral and Bishop's Palace. Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron was one of the stars.
"A lot of people told me that I would love Wells but they undersold it to me," Charlize said. "I more than loved it. The people were so great and respected that you were there to work but treated you like an old friend. The buildings and the surrounding countryside was also so lovely. I have very happy memories of Wells and the other parts I saw of Somerset."
Cate Blanchett also fell in love with Wells when she was there for the filming of Elizabeth - The Golden Age a few years ago.
"We filmed in Wells like so many people do. I think there must be a queue of movie crews! We went to Brean Down too. I remember it well. It is a beautiful part of England and I can understand why overseas visitors love to see it. I went back there myself as a tourist to see the bits I had missed."
Two of the most acclaimed actors in recent decades once graced Weston-Super-Mare's popular pier in a scene from award-winning Remains of the Day. Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson shot a very famous scene in which they were sitting on a bench on the pier just chatting about themselves to each other. It was a poignant scene in a poignant film.
"It might not seem that a seaside pier would make for a romantic setting," says Anthony. "We tend to think chips and bingo but seaside piers are characters in their own right and Weston-Super-Mare's pier was perfect for that moment in the movie. I was saddened to hear that it had been the victim of a fire and the very place where we had shot the scene had been destroyed. I was delighted that it was rebuilt though, I should hate to think that a memorable moment of my career had gone up in smoke."
A number of episodes of Doctor Who have been shot at Wookey Hole but there was one episode in particular which made those involved start to wonder if the famous Wookey Witch didn't want them there.
The Revenge of the Cybermen starred Tom Baker as the Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen as his assistant, Sarah Jane. The end result was one of the best ever episodes of Dr Who but during the crew's time at Wookey Hole an electrician had an accident and broke his leg. And, in one scene, Elisabeth Sladen's motorboat went out of control and a stuntman had to dive in and rescue her. The result was that he was injured and had to be taken to hospital.
"I remember that," says Tom Baker. "I remember seeing those wonderful caves and thinking how real they looked. I was so used to see cardboard rocks that I forgot that I was in the middle of the real thing. There were a few incidents and some people got a bit superstitious, not me. I don't worry about things like that as my lucky rabbit's foot takes care of those things. When there were some accidents I waited for someone to shout 'Is there a doctor in the house'? Of course I was ready for that but nobody did.
"I have been to Somerset many times for filming and appearances and also as a visitor. It is one of the nicest areas on the planet and the cider is very special too."
These are just some of the countless film and TV productions that have brought the movie world to Somerset. There are many more in the planning stages too.
As well as the stars we have mentioned, you may also bump into the likes of Johnny Depp, David Tennant, John Barrowman and Meryl Streep when you're out and about in Somerset.
Maybe it is time to create some new county signs - 'Welcome to Somerwood'!