Norfolk, UK, is no stranger to Hollywood. The North Norfolk coast, Holkham Hall and beach, Norwich Cathedral, Elm Hill and city centre, Blickling Hall, Heydon and King’s Lynn are among popular locations. Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, Pierce Brosnan as 007, Keira Knightley as The Duchess, Natalie Portman, Jane Fonda, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Julie Christie have all filmed here.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but gives you some of our top film and TV locations…
As Alan Partridge lives in Norwich, it’s only right his major film breakthrough in Alpha Papa (2015) was actually filmed in the city, on the Dereham Road (singing along to Roachford) and St Peter’s Street, outside City Hall. And after a campaign supported by, literally, tens of people, the call to premiere the film at ‘Anglia Square not Leicester Square’ was won! Anglia Square being in Norwich and having a cinema. You see what they did there? What do you mean Alan Partridge’s not real?
Norman Foster’s futuristic Sainsbury Centre of Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia played the Upstate New York HQ of Marvel’s Avengers in Age of Ultron (2015) starring Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans, Ant-Man (2015) with Paul Rudd and Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) with Tom Holland.
The city didn’t have to come to a standstill for 45 Years (2015), starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, the filming was done secretly so those ‘extras’ outside Jarrolds’ Department Store are genuine shoppers! Other city locations were London Street, St Benedict’s, the Royal Arcade and the Assembly Rooms.
Andrew Haigh’s rave-reviewed drama about an ageing couple whose marriage hits the rocks also featured the Norfolk Broads. Rampling and Courtenay jointly won the best acting prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
Elm Hill was an important location in the fantasy adventure Stardust (2007), starring Clare Danes, Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Sienna Miller. With the addition of a thatched awning, The Briton’s Arms coffee shop was transformed into ‘The Slaughtered Prince’.
Elm Hill has also appeared in Monty Python’s And Now For Something Completely Different and in one episode of the BBC’s 1980s antiques drama Lovejoy with Ian McShane.
The interior of Norwich’s Norman cathedral was turned into a medieval castle in the fairytale adventure Jack the Giant Slayer (2013). Directed by Bryan Singer, it starred Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane and Bill Nighy. The cathedral has also appeared in My Talks With Dean Spanley (2008) with Peter O’Toole and Sam Neill, The Go-Between (1971), along with The Maid’s Head Hotel, Tombland and Thorpe Station, and Tulip Fever (2016), a period drama set in 17th century Amsterdam during The Tulip Wars and starring Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz and Cara Delevingne.
Norwich Market Place and Mousehold Heath featured in Stephen Merchant’s Fighting With My Family (2019) and the city was also a location for comedy drama Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, starring Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson and Peaky Blinders actor Daryl McCormack and based on a screenplay by Katy Brand.
In May 2018 more than 6000 people gathered on the fine sands of Gorleston-on-Sea’s beach to be extras in Danny Boyle’s Yesterday.
Boyle, who won a Best Director Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009, was filming a rooftop performance at the Pier Hotel by the film’s leading character Jack, played by Himesh Patel. The film, written by Richard Curtis, also featured Lily James and Ed Sheeran.
‘It’s one of the great secrets of England, Gorleston beach,’ said Danny. ‘It’s beautiful.’
“I loved Gorleston, which is a town I did not know. It reminded me a lot of Liverpool, so it was perfect for a film that tried to summon up the spirit of The Beatles. It was a working port and you still see evidence of that but if you look the other way, you then encounter one of Britain’s most remarkable beaches and I am amazed that no-one seems to know about it.’
Holkham Hall is arguably Norfolk’s most significant film location. The 18th century Palladian house has been used for The Duchess (2008), starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, All The King’s Men (1999) with David Jason and Dean Spanley (2008) with Peter O’Toole and Sam Neill.
The nearby beach has seen its fair share of filming too… The Eagle Has Landed (1976) with Michael Caine, Shakespeare in Love (1999) with Gwyneth Paltrow, and Annihilation (2018) with Natalie Portman.
In Autumn 2019 King’s Lynn featured in Armando Iannucci’s Dickens’ adaptation The Personal Life of David Copperfield, with a starry cast including Tilda Swinton, Dev Patal, Hugh Laurie, Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie, Peter Capaldi and Paddington himself… Ben Whishaw.
Other scenes for the film were shot on the beach at Weybourne.
What the Dickens! Both Martin Chuzzlewit and David Copperfield, with Bob Hoskins and Nicholas Lyndhurst, have been filmed here for TV as well.
The quiet and unassuming town became vibrant and violent eighteenth century New York for the film Revolution (1985), starring Al Pacino, Nastassja Kinski and Donald Sutherland, with King’s Street transformed. Directed by Hugh Hudson, the film proved to be a massive flop.
Legendary British film-makers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942) made use of the town too, as well as locations in The Wash and Fens, and Operation Crossbow (1965), with Sophie Loren, filmed in Purfleet Street.
Nearby Castle Rising was used in Out Of Africa (1985), which starred Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, with the castle being turned into a Danish castle.
The market place and church were used as locations for Sky’s political drama This Sceptred Isle, with Sir Kenneth Branagh in character as prime minister Boris Johnson.
The Wicked Lady (1945), a full-blooded historical romp starring James Mason and Margaret Lockwood in the eponymous role as a husband-stealing, poisoning, highway robber-cum-Lady of the Manor, was filmed at the National Trust Jacobean property. The film scandalised American audiences with Miss Lockwood’s low-cut décolletage.
Do you think the Norfolk Broads look like Asian paddy fields? No, nor us. Still, Stanley Kubrick did when he needed a location for a US Army helicopter shooting up the ‘Vietnamese countryside’ in Full Metal Jacket (1987). Of course, famously, Kubrick wouldn’t travel abroad…
45 Years (2015), starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, also made good use of the Broads (also see Norwich).
Only in the Go-Between though (see Heydon) did a lead character actually get in the water… at Hickling Broad.
Farmland in the village was transformed into a North Korean paddy field for the Bond film Die Another Day (2002), starring Pierce Brosnan as 007. So what is it about film directors thinking Norfolk’s stunning countryside looks like Communist paddy fields?
Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor filmed scenes for Conspirator (1949) at Cley Windmill. The film also starred Robert Taylor and Honor Blackman. Almost sixty years later the marshes were used for The Duchess (2008) with Keira Knightley.
Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2015), after a low-speed car ‘chase’ from Norwich to Sheringham, comes to a thrilling conclusion in a shoot-out on Cromer Pier.
And the Pier also featured in a BBC Christmas continuity ad – looks lovely, doesn’t it?
This charming, cul-de-sac village has long been attractive to film makers. Heydon Hall has featured in A Cock and Bull Story (2005) with Steve Coogan and Gillian Anderson and The Grotesque (1995) with Alan Bates and Sting, which also shot at Norwich’s Guildhall and Bethel Street as well as Halvergate Marshes. The picturesque village green featured in Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between (see also Melton Constable) and in Monty Python’s village idiot sketch.
Watch the second world war film The Dambusters (1954) and try to spot the now-deserted Langham airfield, between Langham and Cockthorpe in north Norfolk. The classic tale of Barnes Wallis’ Bouncing Bomb, starring Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave, also featured King’s Lynn and The Wash, which doubled as the Dutch coast.
Funnily enough, we always like to joke that the land you can see from Hunstanton cliffs across The Wash is Holland…
Talking of Hunstanton, the beach features in scenes from the film Spencer, featuring Kristen Stewart as the late Princess of Wales and Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins.
The church of St Peter and St Paul in the Breckland village of Shropham, near Attleborough, was used as a double for Sandringham church in another scene from the film.
Wartime thriller Glorious 39 (2009), directed by Stephen Poliakoff, made use of Little Walsingham Abbey and Little Walsingham House and starred, get this, Eddie Redmayne, David Tennant, Christopher Lee, Bill Nighy, Jenny Agutter, Julie Christie, Hugh Bonneville and Romola Garai. Phew! Other locations were St Nicholas Church at Salthouse and Holkham Hall.
The cast and crew of 1980s hit comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo didn’t get out of the BBC studios very often, but when they did they came to Norfolk. Lynford Hall in the Brecks was one location, as was nearby Denver Mill and Beeston. Lynford Hall was also used in two other Jimmy Perry and David Croft series, Dad’s Army (see Thetford and Weybourne) and You Rang My Lord?
17th century Melton Constable Hall provided the central shooting location and production headquarters for The Go-between (1971), Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter’s adaptation of L.P.Hartley’s 1953 novel, starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates. Norfolk forms the backdrop for a long hot summer in the shape also of Norwich, Hanworth, Heydon, Hickling and Thornage.
The BBC’s Agatha Christie spy drama Partners in Crime (2015) featured husband and wife team Tommy (David Walliams) and Tuppence Beresford (Jessica Raine) as amateur sleuths foiling dastardly plots in 1950s Cold War Britain.
It’s unlikely that the Royal Family’s private home would be used as a film or TV location, but the BBC’s All The Kings Men (1999), with David Jason and Dame Maggie Smith, was different – it tells the story of a group of world war one volunteers from the Sandringham estate, led by estate manager Captain Frank Beck, who joined the Norfolk Regiment and inexplicably disappeared in Gallipoli in 1915. You can learn more about the story at the Sandringham Museum.
The TV drama was also shot at Blickling, Cromer, West Newton, Sheringham, Burnham Deepdale and Holkham.
Doubled as the fictional town of Market Shipborough in ITV’s Kingdom (2007-9). The series starred Stephen Fry as county solicitor Peter Kingdom. Oakleigh House was used as his office – while the Greyhound Pub was transformed into The Startled Duck. Peter Kingdom was often seen driving his Alvis TE21 around the town’s famous buttercross. Just don’t get us started on the Norfolk accents… Mummerset more like!
Most of the external scenes from Dad’s Army, the original, classic BBC comedy, not the awful recent film remake, were filmed in and around Thetford. Thetford Guildhall was used as Walmington-on-Sea Town Hall and the series frequently used Nether Row, Newtown and Old Bury Road. During the making of the episodes, the cast and crew used to stay at the The Bell Hotel and The Anchor Hotel (now demolished). Nearby Stanford Battle Area (STANTA) was used extensively for the action sequences.
Walpole St Andrew
Streets of this small village near King’s Lynn were turned into a second world war Dunkirk for the film Atonement (2007) – it was here Robbie (James McAvoy) discovers the bodies of the murdered schoolgirls (from the Sandra Reynolds Model Agency in Norwich and, don’t worry, very much still alive). Also starring Keira Knightley, it was based on a book by Ian McEwan, a graduate of the Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.
If a stranger appears from nowhere and says to you, ‘No diggin’ ‘ere’, you’d best move.. smartish. That’s the message we get from A Warning To The Curious (1972), a BBC Christmas ghost film based on a M.R.James’ story about the search for an Anglo-Saxon crown and filmed at Wells, as well as Holkham, Happisburgh and Waxham. No, really, the north Norfolk coast is much more inviting than this…
Weybourne railway station has been a popular film/TV location for many years. It is perhaps best known as Walmington-on-Sea in the classic Dad’s Army episode The Royal Train. It also featured as Arcady in the TV series Love on a Branch Line (1994) starring Leslie Phillips and Maria Aitkin, in A Warning To the Curious (see above), and in Stephen Poliakoff’s The Lost Prince (2003).
Who knew Winterton could pass for Cape Cod? Well, it does in Julia (1977), starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. Furthermore, it went on to win three Oscars, for Best Supporting Actress (Redgrave), Best Supporting Actor (Jason Robards) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Alvin Sargent). No honorary title for our lovely seaside village?
Masters of the Air, the third and final of Tom Hanks’ and Steve Spielberg’s second world war mini-series after Band of Brothers and The Pacific, will be streamed by Apple TV+ in 2024. Filmed in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 2021, the story will focus mainly on the exploits of the 100th Bomb Group, based at Thorpe Abbotts near Diss, between 1942-45.
Wonka, a prequel to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory to be released at the end of 2023, features a performance by Great Yarmouth’s Lydia Eva, the world’s last surviving steam-powered herring drifter. The film stars Norfolk-born Olivia Colman, Matt Lucas and Rowan Atkinson. Read more here.