A breathtaking rugged coastline, sheltered coves, the isolation of the moors, beautiful houses and quaint villages… the perfect location!
Hardly a month goes by when someone isn’t filming something in Cornwall. With its stunning coastline, from the rugged north coast beloved by Poldark, with dashing young men on galloping horses and gorgeous windswept heroines, to the sheltered calm of quiet coves and estuaries fit for Daphne Du Maurier and Rosamunde Pilcher. Cornwall just about has it all, including the weather – we have calm hot sunny days with clear blue skies and storm lashed landscapes with huge waves and threatening, dark brooding clouds, and just about everything in between… and all in the same week!
Whatever the weather or location; Cornwall looks good on screen and is a much loved location for TV series, documentaries and blockbuster movies. Film crews of all shapes and sizes are made welcome in the Duchy and agencies like Visit Cornwall and Cornwall Council are happy to lend a hand by suggesting the perfect film location or helping to arrange filming permission. And why? Because the film business brings lots of money into Cornwall, from the filming itself to the tourists who come to follow in the footsteps of a much loved character or author. From the Doc Martin effect in Port Isaac (aka Portwenn in the popular series), to the much-lauded new Poldark series: from zombies in Falmouth with Brad Pitt, to Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench filming Ladies in Lavender in Cadgwith, or Wycliffe filming the thought-provoking detective series down on the Lizard; Cornwall makes a stunning backdrop and there is a real value to the local economy.
For instance, Germans are our biggest groups of foreign tourists by far: because they love Rosamunde Pilcher! The author’s a household name there. Over the past twenty years German company, ZDF films have made over 100 films of her books with more in the pipeline, and they are watched by around six million viewers each time. Many of whom then visit Cornwall to see their favourite locations. The stunning Elizabethan manor, Prideaux Place, on the beautiful North Cornish coast, has been the location for fourteen of her stories and is now a mecca for visitors from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Owner Peter Prideaux-Brune always likes to take a cameo role in the films shot at his home – his credits so far include a chauffeur, a gin taster and a coroner. Peter’s wife Elizabeth tells me: “Peter and I love having films here and Peter likes to take a cameo role, a la Hitchcock, in the Pilcher films! Apart from meeting well known actors we find the crews fun and considerate to work with, once you get used to the endless cables and people in every corner of the house. We feel a great sense of pride seeing the house and garden on screen as we have worked so hard to restore them. The extra publicity also helps greatly with our visitor numbers!” Bonython Manor and its gardens on the Lizard is another popular location for Rosamunde Pilcher films.
Other Cornish Estates, little villages and isolated coves feature in many films and TV programmes. Director Tim Burton seems to like filming in Cornwall he used Antony House in East Cornwall to film part of his recent film, Alice in Wonderland, and has now come back to the Roseland to the tiny hamlet of Portholland to film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children with Samuel L. Jackson and Chris O’Dowd.
And let’s not forget the ongoing Poldark series, where the Cornish scenery was more than a match for a shirtless Aidan Turner. St Agnes Head, where iconic engine houses perch on the cliff-tops offering a silent reminder of Cornwall’s mining heyday, were a natural location choice for the filming of Poldark. The area doubles as Nampara Valley in the show. Some of the cliff scenes where filmed near Padstow and feature stunning views out over the Camel estuary. Aidan Turner and a hoard of other cast members descended on Church Cove to film nighttime ship wreck scenes. Porthgwarra cove sits at the heart of the St Aubyn Estates and was used to film some swimming scenes and landings; the filming took place over a week including one all night filming session. The rich mining heritage of the west Cornwall coast linking Botallack and Levan was used. Cameras rolled with Levant Mine playing the role of fictional Tressiders Rolling Mill while Owlas and Crowns near Botallack starred as Wheal Leisure. An absolute mecca for Poldark fans, of which there must be millions!
Then there is the sea itself from the beautiful BBC Coast series, to short wildlife films about basking sharks, dolphins, seals or the fabulous birdlife. And, of course, old sailing ships create a magical feeling on film; we were lucky enough to catch up with Shane McCarthy owner of Atlantic Productions and more recently Square Sail Ventures, which owns and runs Charlestown harbour, also featured in Poldark, and the gorgeous ‘Phoenix’ a 112 foot, 2 masted brig; she was built in Denmark in 1929 and converted to an eighteenth century brig in 1996. Shane, who started in the entertainment industry in 1983 working with such iconic acts as U2, the Rolling Stones and Madonna tells me “Coming from West Cork in Ireland, it was a natural fit, the communities and beautiful coastline are very similar. I have always been involved in all things maritime: I love fishing and sailing. My family is moving to Cornwall from Cork and the whole business will be based here. It’s not just about using Cornwall as a location there is a wealth of talent here, set construction, rigs, staging all anyone could need for a production we can provide in Cornwall – they really don’t need to bring film crew with them!”
Shane has already introduced ‘green screen’ to Charlestown, a huge outdoor space for filming anything and putting the backdrop in later. He and his team sailed Phoenix up to London this winter for the premier of “In the Heart of the Sea”, Phoenix plays the whale ship Essex on which Moby Dick was based. Shane adds “Luckily we got back just before the storms hit! But it was fantastic; one of the most fabulous things I’ve done; sailing up the Thames at night; they even opened Tower Bridge for us! I really do believe that Cornwall has a great future in filming – it could be equally good for everyone.”