The Cotswolds is so stunning it’s officially classified as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. Picture-perfect cottages line cobbled streets, manor houses adorn verdant fields and quaint pubs pop up on winding country lanes. It's the idyllic vision of English country life.
This is undoubtedly why film crews flock to the area, determined to secure the perfect backdrop for the latest BBC period drama or blockbuster movie. In fact, squillions of productions have been filmed in the Cotswolds over the years, from historical dramas to action films, Hollywood romcoms and fantasy epics.
You don’t have to be a diehard film buff to enjoy this part of the UK, but the area certainly knows how to draw the stars. Visit filming locations and you can stand exactly where the likes of Colin Firth, Dame Maggie Smith, Rene Zellweger and Matt Smith demonstrated their talents.
The Cotswolds has added an extra touch of magic to many movies and TV shows, and we've listed them below so you can experience it too.
Downton Abbey is possibly one of the most beloved British historical dramas of all time. Many travellers seek out famous Downton filming locations not just because they’re massive fans of the show, but also due to the quintessential English charm of the places.
Bampton Village in the Cotswolds is one such site. Its quaint cottages and little lanes act as the fictional village of Downton. Various scenes have been filmed along Church View street and within St Mary’s Church (known as St Michael and All Angels in the show) and the old Grammar School building.
Walking through the village, you’ll certainly recognize a scene or two from the series. Some of the most momentous Crawley family milestones were filmed in the church – weddings and funerals rarely left a dry eye in the house.
Poldark is another popular English period drama. It’s chiefly set against the dramatic cliffs of Cornwall, but the scenes which take place in Trenwith House (the fictional home of character Geoffrey Charles Poldark) are shot at Chavenage House in Gloucestershire.
This fine establishment has seen some saucy historical dramatization over the years. When filming the BBC’s 2008 adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Eddie Redmayne starred in a particularly steamy scene set in one of the house’s luxurious bedrooms.
Puzzlewood is one of the most enchanting filming locations in the Cotswolds. It’s dark, mysterious and captivating. For these reasons, it’s featured as the lurking-place of magical beasts and witches in the BBC series Merlin, a regular stomping ground for Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who, and as the backdrop for a high stake’s lightsaber fight in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Rumour has it JRR Tolkien even took inspiration from Puzzlewood for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mirkwood, perhaps? The eerie atmosphere of the deep green foliage certainly fits the description.
The Cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral are a coveted spot for filming, and it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see why. The ornate ceilings, wide corridors and mesmerizing stained-glass windows can take on an otherworldly feel. This part of the cathedral has featured in several of the Harry Potter films as various hallways in Hogwarts Castle.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have also walked down those vast stone steps as Sherlock and Dr Watson in the BBC hit series. Perhaps one of the most iconic Sherlock scenes filmed in the Cotswolds however, is the emotionally charged reunion between the two major characters at the start of season three. Sherlock surprises John in the fancy Daffodil Restaurant in Cheltenham to reveal he is still alive. As you can probably recall, John’s violent reaction made a bit of a mess of the restaurant’s carefully curated décor.
In series two of The Crown, we gain an insight into the life of Prince Philip and his experiences during boyhood. One such flashback is filmed at the infamous Woodchester Mansion; an imposing Victorian estate abandoned halfway through construction and widely believed to be haunted. In the show, it’s presented as Gordonstoun Public School, which Prince Philip, and later Prince Charles, attended for a time.
While The Crown is a hot topic these days, we think it’s worth mentioning Woodchester Mansion has featured on Ghost Hunters International and Most Haunted Live. It was also the setting for the 2006 remake of Dracula. There’s a spine-tingling feeling about the place. You can visit the mansion on an Open Day and decide for yourself whether it’s haunted or not, just be mindful of the colonies of bats that call it home (we aren’t joking).
Who can forget the enigmatic Miss Jones (Renee Zellweger) as she first graced our movie theatres at the turn of the millennia? Single and not-so-ready to mingle, she epitomised the plight of many women approaching the end of their thirties.
In the first film of the series, she meets hunky Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) at her parent’s Christmas party (turkey curry buffet). The fictional village of her childhood is shot in beautiful Snowshill in Gloucestershire. It well and truly lives up to its name, covered in a magical white blanket for the holiday scene. Funnily enough, filming took place in July, so the crew had to douse the village in fake snow before they started rolling the cameras.
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Jane Austen’s classic novel has inspired many film adaptations, two of which were shot around the Cotswolds. The 1995 mini-series starring Colin Firth as the mysterious Mr Darcy, featured a ball scene filmed at the classical Cheltenham Town Hall.
The 2005 movie, headlined by the costume drama Queen herself, Keira Knightley, was partly filmed in Lacock, which poses as the fictional town of Meryton. This traditional Wilshire village is lined with Tudor-style cottages with thatched roofs. It’s almost entirely owned by the National Trust and appears as though untouched by time.
When many people imagine a high-speed car chase, they don’t typically think of the pristine villages of the Cotswolds. But this is where Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond revved the engine of his Aston Martin and high-tailed it across an icy carpark in Bourton-on-the-Water. Needless to say, the townspeople of this sleepy village had a lot to talk about that week.
Another unexpected film on this list is the British cult horror classic 28 Days Later, starring Cillian Murphey. A few scenes in this post-apocalyptic movie are shot at Badminton House, right in the heart of the Cotswolds.
The house also features as an RAF base in the emotional 2001 flick Pearl Harbour, which enjoyed an incredible all-star cast including Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale and Jennifer Garner.
Arlington Row in Bibury is one of the most photographed streets in the Cotswolds. This traditional little village was the perfect setting for a scene in the film Stardust, adapted from Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel of the same name. Walking around the streets of Bibury, it’s easy to see how it would fit into a fairy tale, with its thatched roofs, quaint gardens and stone walls.
Some of the globe’s top celebrities bumped shoulders on this film, including Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller and Ian McKellen.
Ready for some starry-eyed action exploring the filming locations of these amazing movies and television shows? Or simply want to discover the incredibly picturesque villages, forests and mansions scenic enough to be deemed worthy of on-screen fame? You can visit the Cotswolds on Rabbie’s Oxford & Traditional Cotswolds Villages 1-day tour, The Cotswolds, Bath and Oxford 2-day tour or Shakespeare’s England, Warwick Castle and the Cotswolds 3-day tour, departing from London.