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Cornwall Actually: Your Ultimate Movie Travel Guide

Posted on Monday September 2, 2013, 14:00 by Phil de Semlyen in Empire States
Cornwall Actually: Your Ultimate Movie Travel Guide

I’ve always wondered what it’s like to live in Cornwall. All that beauty. All those pasties. Sean Pertwee in a wetsuit. Poldark. Cream teas. It’s very far away from my house, sure, but it’s more tranquil than a thousand Terrence Malick cornfields, and a perfect place to get away from it all. Unless, of course, you’re a crab, in which case your life is just a perpetual, grinding quest to avoid Rick Stein.

But the county’s major export, apart from tin, fine ales and the eyepatch, has been some of the most spectacular cinescapes to have ever graced the big screen. The Wreck Of The S.S. Paris, a 1899 short with a whiff of silent-era Bayhem (“Paris! Wrecked! Again!”), was followed by Alex Korda’s The Thief Of Baghdad, filmed on The Lizard’s sea-sharpened rocks. Hitch came here in 1939 for Jamaica Inn. There’s been Blue Juice. Sense & Sensibility. The Three Musketeers. Saving Grace. Alice In Wonderland. This year, Summer In February, in which ‘Downton’ Dan Stevens has a rugged-off with the cliff faces of Porthcurno, also shared their IMAX landscapes and folky mysteries.

With Richard Curtis’s latest, About Time, adding to the Cornish canon this week, I headed there as both film journalist AND travel-writer – a complex multimedia reinvention I facilitated mainly by writing ‘film journalist’ on one hand and ‘travel writer’ on the other – for a tour of the cinematic sights. Padstow was my base, where I was looked after by the lovely people of Old Custom House hotel. It’s a swish St Austell Brewery inn that’s the closest you can get to being in CurtisWorld without finding yourself a friend called Bernard. It offered a launchpad from which to meet the man himself at About Time’s cinema premiere in St. Austell, before setting off on a roadtrip of Cornwall’s most spectacular movie locations.

“About Time was going to be [set] in Scotland, but I wanted a house where you could see the sea through the window,” Curtis told me at the premiere. Exteriors were shot in Portloe and Gorran Haven, while our hero’s family home was in 'Saint Ozzell', just down the road. “I just had this idea that when Bill (Nighy) is breaking the news about the time travel, you’d know that it wasn’t a set because you could actually see the sea. Once we’d chosen it, we adapted the film so that it’d be about Cornwall.”

The beaches were another factor that swung it Cornwall’s way, with crucial father-and-son bonding scenes to shoot between Bill Nighy and Domhnall Gleeson. Pick your beach wisely, is Curtis’s advice. “We had to carry our equipment a mile from the car park to the beach,” he grinned, “so we assumed there wouldn’t be anyone on the beach, but exactly the same thought had occurred to the nudists of Cornwall. We’d be looking at these lonely characters on the beach and just to the right of frame, there’d be a man with no trousers on.”

About Time

Should you decide to head to the county for a holiday – and you should, almost immediately – here are some of the movie spots to visit...

Fowey (About Time, The Amazing Grace): The top Curtis recommendation. “It’s particularly lovely,” he enthused. “We ended up there quite a lot in the evenings.”

Holywell Bay, Newquay (Top Secret!) For skeet surfing enthusiasts, this is where the opening of the Zuckers’ comedy was filmed. 12-gauge shotguns are still frowned upon.

Menabilly House
, the Gribben peninsula (Rebecca): Sure, nitpickers and fussbuckets will say: “But didn’t Hitchcock shoot his great du Maurier adaptation in California?” Yes. Yes, he did. But does First Great Western go there? No it doesn’t.

Lamorna Cove and St. Buryan (Straw Dogs): Okay, not a ringing movie endorsement, granted, but this a hugely picturesque spot and the locals absolutely aren’t the rampaging psychopaths you’d think.

Charlestown Harbour
(The Eagle Has Landed, The New World, Alice In Wonderland): So authentically period, the fish wear monocles. I don’t know that Donald Sutherland and Michael Caine peed in it, but I don’t know that they didn’t either.

All of which leads me in a roundabout way to a new (and badly-titled) new regular called ‘Random Movie Location Scout’, in which I’ll be combining the effortless style and debonair charm of Alan Whicker with the movie love of Team Empire by visiting movie locations of yore. Only without the effortless style, or the debonair charm. Or the expense account. And, thinking about it, I won’t be wearing a blazer either. So nothing like Alan Whicker. But there will be some fun film locales visited, which I’ll share via the medium of words and arty photos. First up: The Eagle Has Landed in Berkshire. I wasn’t kidding about the ‘random’ part.

With thanks to Old Custom House, St Austell Brewery and First Great Western trains. Oh, and Mayor Steve of St. Austell.

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1 DMP27
Posted on Tuesday September 3, 2013, 11:53
Wonderful blog! I now both want to see the film and go on a long weekend to Cornwall.
Daniela x

2 chrisgower
Posted on Sunday November 3, 2013, 23:31
Don't forget St Ives for the last scene for Raise The Titanic, the immortal line repeated 'Do you want to dig it up?' by the local chap. Such an underated movie!

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