From WW2 epics and period dramas to Hollywood blockbusters, some of our best-loved films are grounded in the coast and countryside around Knoll House.
Released in 2017, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk charts the mass evacuation of allied troops stranded on beaches in the Second World War. Many scenes were filmed in Dorset, with Custom House Quay in Weymouth seeing the valiant civilian craft preparing to set off on their rescue, armed with lifejackets. You might also spot that the offices of the Weymouth Herald newspaper in the film are actually the real-life offices of the Weymouth Harbourmaster.
Other scenes, featuring Harry Styles and Fionn Whitehead travelling by train to London, were shot at Swanage Railway. Oh, and the first sight of “home” for the evacuees? It’s not the white cliffs of Dover, but the white cliffs of Dorset (or Studland, to be precise).
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
If you’ve watched the sixth film in the hugely popular Harry Potter franchise, you’ll probably remember The Burrow: the eclectic home of the Weasley family. To create sweeping night-time shots of the approach to the house, filming took place at Abbotsbury Swannery, where The Burrow was added in post-production to the Swannery’s vast reed beds. Although the house itself was never there, it’s a fascinating and atmospheric spot, boasting the world’s only managed colony of nesting mute swans.
World War Z
Starring Brad Pitt, the Hollywood blockbuster World War Z follows a former United Nations investigator as he travels the world to tackle a zombie apocalypse. Although the film’s setting is global, much of the filming took place in the UK, including in Glasgow, Falmouth, and London. However, the eagle-eyed might notice that the film’s final scenes, set in Nova Scotia, really feature Dorset’s Lulworth Cove.
Lulworth cove is justifiably a popular spot on the Jurassic Coast, and well worth a visit nonetheless.
Ammonite brings to life the tale of one of Dorset’s most famous former residents, the 19th century palaeontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet), and her relationship with the wealthy Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan). Filmed on location in Lyme Regis, where Anning worked, it shows familiar sights such as Bell Cliff, Broad Street, Coombe Street, and the Cobb. Scenes were also shot at the nearby Eype and Charmouth beaches.
Ahead of filming, work took place to wind back the clock on certain areas, more closely recreating what they would have looked like in Anning’s lifetime. A two-storey Georgian façade was added at Bell Cliff, and many modern features were cleverly hidden from view. The result, released in 2020, is a must-see for anyone exploring the local area.
Still fresh from release in December 2023, Wonka is a Hollywood retelling of one of Roald Dahl’s most bizarre and compelling characters. With an all-star cast including Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Colman, Rowan Atkinson and Matt Lucas, the film once again saw areas of Lyme Regis being transformed for production. Shooting took place around the harbour, and snow machines were deployed at the Cobb to create snow-filled winter scenes.
On Chesil Beach
Based on Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, On Chesil Beach (2017) narrates the tempestuous relationship of newlyweds Edward and Florence. Adding a layer of authenticity to the tale, filming took place on Chesil Beach itself, the setting for the couple’s ill-fated honeymoon.
However, summer visitors might find that it’s a very different beach to the one they’re used to; reflecting the less-than-happy holiday Edward and Florence take, scenes show a view that’s distinctly moody and overcast.
Far from the Madding Crowd
In Sherborne, Sherborne Abbey, Sherborne Castle, Castleton Church, St John’s Almshouse and Abbey Close were all included as the town of Casterbridge. Forde Abbey’s Great Hall was adopted as the Corn Exchange, and Mapperton became Everdene Farm. Heading towards the coast, the cliffs of West Bay and Eype were used as the setting for scenes with Bathsheba’s sheep-farming suitor, Gabriel Oak.
Discover for yourself
It’s the magic of Dorset’s landscape that makes it such a prime and versatile location for filming. If you’d like to explore it for yourself, check out our latest offers and packages.