Wales is gorgeous, we all know that: dramatic, breath-taking, inspiring. It’s hardly surprising we’re the land of song, because the landscape alone defies adequate description in prose.
But surely, with these stunning vistas, Wales must be a big attraction for people who deal with stunning vistas? Hollywood, for example, always on the hunt for a stunning backdrop makes movies regularly in Wales. From Penbryn Beach doubling for North Korea in Die Another Day, Snowdonia representing Kazakhstan in The World is Not Enough, Cardiff Bay providing a secret underground headquarters for Torchwood, or Caerwent hosting a huge World War Two battle in Captain America. Here are just a handful.
- The Dark Knight Rises 2012
Remember the sensational Batcave, behind a waterfall, seen here on this You Tube clip?
Strikes me as a bit cold and damp; probably draughty too. But that was Henrhyd Falls, Brecon Beacons, where the falling spray has carved a cave from behind the water. The falls occur on a geological fault line, and have retreated about fifty metres since the end of the last ice age. The layer of sandstone that forms the edge of the falls is known as the “farewell rock,” since nineteenth-century miners who encountered it could kiss goodbye to the prospect of finding any more coal.
It’s worth mentioning that Christian Bale, who played Batman, was born in Haverfordwest. Here he is singing “Suo Gan” in Welsh in “Empire of the Sun.”
- Da Vinci’s Demons 2013-2015
That magnificent mansion, all very gothic, looks just perfect for an historical fantasy. Margam Park, outside Port Talbot, dates back to a monastery from the Middle Ages, recorded as one of the largest and wealthiest in its time, but the house depicted in the series (set in Renaissance Italy) was built in the 1840’s, with a huge, octagonal tower featuring a magnificent stair case and balcony, lavish interior decoration, and extensive gardens with a large orangery.
However, during World War 2, it was requisitioned by the American army as a military base. They wrecked it. The citrus trees were carted out of the orangery, and all died from exposure to successive Welsh winters. The interior of the house was wrecked also, much of its stucco ripped away down to the bare brickwork. The estate was bequeathed after the war to the local council which turned the gardens into a public park and the orangery into a reception centre. The house itself, offering large interiors with bare brickwork that can be freely adapted to requirements, makes an excellent film location.
- Dunkirk 2017
You might well be tempted to ask where all those houses in the background came from. There lots of sand dunes at Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire, but no buildings. Here is a better view of the sand dunes, in Ridley Scott’s 2010 Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe.
In fact, Ridley Scott got in there just a few weeks after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had packed up, shooting poor Dobby’s demise:
The shell house doesn’t exist. That was built for the movie. The beach was also used for The Sarah Jane Adventures (2010) and The Thief of Baghdad (1978). Freshwater West faces south-west, toward the Atlantic Ocean, and provides some of the best surfing conditions of anywhere in Pembrokeshire. However, savage rip tides mean that swimming is not advised for any but the strongest swimmers.
4. Snow White and the Huntsman
Not far from Freshwater West is Marloes Sands, also another popular movie location, with its beach framed by dramatic rocks:
- Doctor Who
The iconic sci-fi series that originated in the 1960’s is produced by BBC Wales and has been shot in Welsh locations for the past ten years. This clip, for example, starts in the entrance of the Cardiff University Registry. The scenes of people running through a curving corridor were shot in the National Museum of Wales, and the outdoor scenes are located outside the magistrates’ courts.
Caerphilly Castle was the setting for Robots of Sherwood:
- Lawrence of Arabia 1962
Those vast stretches of sand dunes, stretching for miles to the horizon! Where could they be? Morocco? Egypt? Saudi Arabia?
No. Merthyr Mawr sand dunes, outside Bridgend.
- Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail 1975
After the credits, the film opens with King Arthur and Patsy pretending to gallop through a misty scene toward a castle.
- Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life 2003
Oh, those thrilling scenes! Angelina Jolie flying through famous Chinese landscapes, racing her motorbike along the Great Wall of China.
Except they couldn’t get permission to shoot in China, so they built a Chinese village in Llyn Gwynant, near Beddgelert, populated by Chinese extras. Everything you see in China is actually Wales, with a lot of very clever CGI!