Visit 27 movie locations on our Suffolk film tourist trail
- Credit: citizenside.com
Even with life returning to ‘normality’ in June, summer travel overseas is going to be extremely difficult and what better excuse do we need to celebrate the richness of our own county than a summer staycation in sunny Suffolk?
A good way of discovering the richness of our heritage and the breath-taking beauty of our landscape would be to embark on a summer road trip taking in some of Suffolk’s great film and TV locations.
As The Dig proved this year and Yesterday did similar things last year, Suffolk makes a great back drop for movies and it’s not a new thing, film and TV crews have been heading to Suffolk for decades searching for those big skies and atmospheric locales to anchor their stories in a believable but good-looking reality.
Discover Suffolk in our Summer Staycation Film Trail.
Witchfinder General (1966): Vincent Price summons up his inner demons to become Matthew Hopkins, East Anglia's legendary Witchfinder General. Shot on location in Lavenham, Thetford, Orford Castle and Bury St Edmunds this film is quite rightly regarded as a classic and presents an atmospheric look at a dark chapter in our history, shortly after The Civil War, when anyone could be put to death as a witch.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2011): The final two parts of the decade long Harry Potter franchise were a long and exciting bringing together of a multitude of different storylines. David Yates did a remarkable job in not only bringing the epic narrative to a satisfying conclusion but ensuring that this magical wizarding world was given some extra atmosphere thanks to location filming among the genuinely old and imposing Tudor houses in Lavenham.
Barry Lyndon (1975): Stanley Kubrick’s grand historical romance starring Ryan O’Neal which was both a crowd-pleaser and a critically acclaimed award-winner. It made the most of its Oscar-winning cinematography and production design as it told the story of an Irish rogue who wins the heart of a rich widow and assumes her dead husband's aristocratic position in 18th-century England. Lavenham has never looked so good on film.
Apotheosis (1969): Experimental art film by John Lennon and Yoko Ono shot in Lavenham’s Market Square in December 1969, it captured John and Yoko swathed in medieval-looking robes clambering aboard a hot air balloon and seemingly taking them skywards, looking out over the snow-covered countryside. In reality the balloon went up without them and the pair sort refuge in John’s white Rolls Royce parked nearby.
Bury St Edmunds:
The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020): A quirky, star-studded take on the Charles Dickens classic which saw Bury St Edmunds standing in for the Victorian streets of London and includes scenes shot at the Theatre Royal. Dev Patel stars as the title character alongside Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Anna Maxwell Martin, Paul Whitehouse and Ben Wishaw. David Copperfield narrates his own story in this mad-cap, fast-paced comic adventure.
Lovejoy (1986-1994): Prime-time BBC TV series starring Ian McShane, Phyllis Logan, Dudley Sutton, Caroline Langrishe and Chris Jury, shot in and around Bury St Edmunds, Long Melford, Sudbury and Lavenham. The series anchored itself in the Suffolk landscape and made good use of the small villages and country lanes in west Suffolk. It was a show that loved Britain’s heritage and its seemingly inexhaustible supply of antique treasures, each one with a story to tell. West Suffolk really was Lovejoy country.
Dad’s Army (1968-77): The classic BBC sitcom was largely filmed on location in Thetford with the distinctive flint buildings standing in for the fictional streets of Walmington-on-Sea. The nearby Stanford Battle Area was used whenever the platoon needed to go on manoeuvres in episodes like Battle of the Giants or Battle School. They also used locations like Walnut Tree Farm, Bressingham for the harvest episode and Britannia Pier, Lowestoft for coastal defence operations.
All the Money in the World (2018): Christopher Plummer was a last minute casting choice brought in by director Ridley Scott to replace Kevin Spacey in the John Paul Getty kidnap drama All The Money In The world. Plummer turned in a commendably cold-hearted performance surrounded by the exotic lustre of Elveden Hall.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider (2001): In the early years of the 21st century Angelina Jolie was the look of Lara Croft - a daredevil archaeologist and adventurer turned from a video game character into a larger-than-life film franchise. Suffolk's Elveden Hall became Croft Towers and provided a suitably classy backdrop for the well-spoken heiress. When the bad guys decide to pay Lara Croft a visit at her home she defends herself in a remarkable aerial ballet, bouncing around the soaring entrance hall on bungee wires. It's a spectacular action sequence which also shows off its location to maximum effect.
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Eyes Wide Shut (1999): Stanley Kubrick's final movie starred Tom Cruise and then wife Nicole Kidman in a dense story of sexual obsession and mysterious cloaked gatherings in stately homes. Elveden Hall has never looked so magnificent with its mix of Gothic and Indian architecture forming the backdrop to an almost religious looking orgy which Tim Cruise's character finds himself embroiled in. A masterful mix of location, lighting and production design.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): Pierce Bond is James Bond in this tense multi-media drama co-starring Jonathan Pryce and Michelle Yeoh. RAF Mildenhall doubled as a US Airforce base in the South Pacific after a British warship is sunk in the South China Sea. A parade of palm trees forms a silent honour guard alongside the runway to disguise its decided untropical UK origins. Bond has other strong links with Suffolk thanks to Coddenham-based Bickers Action, long-term James Bond stunt specialists who first became involved in the world of 007 in Octopussy (1983) when they staged a Tuk Tuk chase through the streets of Dehli.
The Crown (2020): The series chronicling the reign of the current Queen reaches the 1980s and Somerleyton Hall, near Lowestoft, makes a wonderful double for Sandringham as Prince Charles brings Lady Diana Spencer to meet the Queen (Olivia Colman) at their family retreat. The remodelled Victorian house is said to be an uncanny replica of the Royal estate. Helena Bonham Carter is also superb as an irascible Princess Margaret.
Yesterday (2019): Surprising collaboration between Trainspotting director Danny Boyle and romantic comedy writer Richard Curtis about a struggling Suffolk-based singer-songwriter who wakes up after a late-night road traffic accident to discover he is the only person who can remember The Beatles. He goes onto fame and fortune (with Ed Sheeran's help) by making the Fab Four's music his own. Shot across Suffolk and Norfolk from the beach at Gorleston to Halesworth Thoroughfare, from Shingle Street to the Ramsholt Arms outside Woodbridge before finally ending up at the Latitude Festival at Henham, near Southwold. It's a magical film fable which is grounded in a recognisable landscape.
Iris (2001): Shot partly on location in Southwold, Judi Dench and Kate Winslet both portray author Iris Murdoch at different stages of her life. Winslet's Iris is young and carefree - very much the independent spirit - while Judi Dench shows how this remarkable woman was brought down by the horrors of dementia.
East of Ipswich (1987): Michael Palin’s love letter to his childhood holidays in Southwold. The film was shot on location and Palin famously said that Southwold was almost unchanged from the image of the town he had in his memory. The only difference was that the television aerials were a lot smaller. The film follows 17 year old Richard and his parents who take their annual seaside holiday in a guesthouse on the Suffolk coast in the 1950s. Julia, a teenage girl holidaying with her parents in a nearby guesthouse, catches Richard's eye, but her Dutch friend Anna is intent on causing trouble.
The Bridge (1992): Saskia Reeves, David O'Hara, Joss Ackland star in this true-life story of Victorian artist Phillip Wilson Steer and his annual visits to the Suffolk village of Walberswick and how he was so captivated by the landscape he set an artists colony there. Adrian Hodges adapted Maggie Hemingway's novel for the screen which has Isobel Hetherington, mother of three young daughters, becoming first a muse and then an obsession for the eminent artist.
Snape, Iken, Butley:
The Dig (2021): The story of how Mrs Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) and amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) uncovered the Sutton Hoo ship burial has been the hit of the 2021 lockdown gaining both critical acclaim and huge viewing figures for filmbackers Netflix. The film has a wonderful feel for Suffolk’s heritage coast – even though the mounds themselves were recreated in Surrey a lot of filming was carried out in Suffolk – with key scenes shot in Snape, Iken, Ramsholt, Felixstowe Ferry, Rendlesham Forest and Butley Creek. Even though filming wasn’t allowed at Sutton Hoo, the National Trust centre is a must visit place on any film location tour.
Dr Who: The Power of Kroll (1978): Tom Baker’s Doctor lands the Tardis in the middle of a reed bed on a swamp-like alien planet. The Doctor and assistant Romana (Mary Tamm) are on a quest to locate The Key To Time. Unfortunately, the time travellers find themselves caught in the middle of a dispute between the crew of a methane refinery and the natives known as 'Swampies'. Extensive location filming took place in Snape, around the River Alde from Monday September 18, 1978 to represent the marshes featured in the script. Nine days of location filming were afforded to the serial, including two night shoots, which was unusual for a Doctor Who story.
Drowning By Numbers (1988): Bernard Hill, Joan Plowright, Juliet Stevenson, Joely Richardson star in this highly regarded tale of murder and revenge by art-house favourite Peter Greenaway. Tired of her husband's philandering ways, the mother of two daughters drowns her husband. With the reluctant help of the local coroner (Bernard Hill), the murder is covered up. Her daughters are having similar problems with relationships, and seek to follow their mother's example. The hapless coroner becomes reluctantly involved in their murders as well. The film was largely shot in and around an extensive beach house close the Meare in Thorpeness.
The Detectorists (2014-17): Beautifully observed comedy-drama written, directed and starring Mackenzie Crook along with Toby Jones and Rachel Stirling as amateur metal detectorists combing the East Anglian landscape for relics of the past. Gentle with some beautiful performances, the hedgerow-lined landscape was as much a character in the unfolding story as any of the human performers. It was shot in and around Framlingham, Sudbury, north Essex as well as Orford and countryside around Woodbridge.
The Lost Son (1999): Landguard peninsula was the location for the isolated cottage on a windswept promontory. The international film starred French star Daniel Auteuil along with Nastassja Kinski and Katrin Cartlidge. Auteuil is Xavier Lombard, a world-weary private eye in London, in exile from his native Paris. He gets a call from an old friend from the Paris police department, now a businessman whose brother-in-law is missing. The missing man's parents hire Xavie and he quickly he finds himself in the realm of sex slavery. He guesses that the son is dead and shifts his focus to finding and breaking this lucrative trafficking business.
The Yangste Incident (1957): A true life war film starring Richard Todd and William Hartnell in which the River Orwell at Trimley stood in for the Yangste River in China. In 1949, during the Chinese Civil War, British warship H.M.S. Amethyst found itself under barrage fire from the Communist Chinese shore batteries.
The Angry Silence (1960): Richard Attenborough visits Ipswich engineering firm Ransomes and Rapier to film this story of industrial unrest. He plays a young factory worker who decides to stand up against his workmates and fellow union members when they want to hold an unofficial strike. Director Guy Green captures the look and feel of the time as well as the courage it takes for an individual to do what they perceive is the right thing.
Yesterday's Hero (1979): Ian McShane (TV's Lovejoy) plays an alcoholic former soccer star (echoes of George Best) who is determined to make a comeback. He gets help from his former girlfriend, now a rock star, and her partner. Several of the football 'action' sequences were shot at Portman Road during Ipswich Town's First Division heyday.
Fourth Protocol (1987): An epic Cold War drama set in Suffolk adapted from a best-selling book by Frederick Forsyth. Caine is John Preston, a British Agent tasked with preventing the Russians from detonating a nuclear device next to an American base. Caine is always an engaging presence onscreen. The highlight of the movie is when a formation of SAS attack helicopters fly through the legs of the Orwell Bridge and land their squad of crack troops on the quay of what was The Wet Dock on Ipswich waterfront. Other sequences were shot in Colchester, RAF Mildenhall and RAF Honington. This was a real East Anglian film.
Claydon and Bramford:
Private Peaceful (2012): Extensive World War I trenches on the outskirts of Ipswich, a muddy no-man's land, complete with shattered farmsteads meant that Suffolk could double for both Devon and Flanders in this big screen adaptation of the Michael Morpurgo novel which starred George Mackay, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour and Maxine Peake. This gripping war movie examined the lives of two farming brothers who were called up to serve their country in the war to end all wars. Additional location shooting took place outside Christchurch Mansion as young farm workers were drafted into the army.
These trenches are preserved and maintained by Taff Gillingham and the Khaki Devil organisation on private land and are not open to visitors but were also utilised by Downton Abbey’s wartime storyline and by 2018 film Stanley’s War about a Ramsholt ploughman who survived behind enemy lines during the 1914-18 war.
Almost Suffolk: Duxford, Cambridge:
Memphis Belle (1990): Michael Caton-Jones impressive true-life World War II story of the first Flying Fortress crew to complete the required number of bombing raids over Nazi-occupied Europe to qualify to return home before the end of the war. Largely shot at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, just outside Cambridge, using restored Flying Fortresses, the film starred Eric Stoltz, Matthew Modine and Harry Connick Jnr, as the aircrew of the famous aircraft. The flying sequences were stunning.
Battle of Britain (1969): Duxford airfield, home of the real-life air ace Sir Douglas Bader, played host to this faithful reconstruction of Britain’s finest hour, pulling together all the air-worthy Spitfires and Hurricanes for this monumental shoot. Among the stars that strode between the hangers and vintage office accommodation were Michael Caine, Kenneth More, Robert Shaw, Susannah York and Ian McShane along with Christopher Plummer and Edward Fox.
Stardust (2007): It may not have been filmed in Ipswich but Suffolk’s county town gets a fair few mentions in this dazzling contemporary fairytale in which Norwich doubles as a sort-of-medieval market town beyond 'the wall'. Claire Danes is a shining star who has crashed down to earth and is being hunted by evil witch Michelle Pfeiffer. It is up to Charlie Cox to keep her safe - after all he went all the way to Ipswich to buy a ring. Robert de Niro delivers a remarkable supporting performance as across-dressing pirate.
I Capture the Castle (2003): Heidi Thomas adapted Dodie Smith's iconic Suffolk-set novel for the big screen which provided Romola Garai with one of her first leading roles as the daughter of rather eccentric parents who live in the shadow of Wingfield Castle in the 1930s. As the eldest daughter she is forced to look after her father (Bill Nighy) who is an author suffering from writer's block and a mother (Tara Fitzgerald) who is determine to commune with nature. Sadly much of the Suffolk-set scenes were shot in the Isle of Man – including a trip to Walberswick.