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Top ten films set in Cornwall

Chosen by Mark Kermode

The Observer’s chief film critic and BBC film reviewer, Mark Kermode, celebrates the films in which Cornish scenery has starred.

With its breathtaking natural beauty and matchless coastal vistas, Cornwall is one of the UK’s most cinematic locations. Filmmakers as diverse as Alfred Hitchcock, Nicolas Roeg, Sam Peckinpah, and Antal Kovacs (director of the Cornish language feature Hwerow Hweg) have all made grand use of the local scenery.

In 2016, Truro filmmaker Brett Harvey (Weekend Retreat) scored a local hit with the Bodmin-set Brown Willy, for which the tag-line ran ‘What happens on the moor … stays on the moor’. Here’s a list of 12 movies – the good, the bad and the weird – to help keep Cornwall in your thoughts, from far away.

1. Jamaica Inn (1939)

Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1936 novel was the source of much friction between the director and Charles Laughton, but became a solid hit nonetheless. The titular inn still stands proudly on Bodmin Moor. Hitchcock’s next picture, Rebecca (the second of three du Maurier adaptations), was also set in Cornwall, although largely shot in the US.

2. Love Story (1944)

The Minack Theatre in Porthcurno features heavily in Leslie Arliss’s classic romance, from a story by J.W. Drawbell. Margaret Lockwood and Stewart Granger are the star-crossed lovers who wooed wartime audiences in a film which Granger later called “a load of crap … and a smash hit!”

3. Dr Blood’s Coffin (1961)

‘Can you stand the terror … the awful secret it contains?’ Carn Galver Mine provides an impressive location for this creaky, creepy tale of a young doctor experimenting with resurrecting the dead. An early outing for director Sidney J. Furie.

4. Straw Dogs (1971)

Sam Peckinpah’s ‘West Country Western’ was banned on video for years, although according to the residents of St Buryan (who feature heavily), “it was always available here!” Still disturbingly controversial, it’s a brutal blend of sex, violence and rugged Cornish scenery.

5. Silent Running (1972)

The Eden Project has appeared in films such as Die Another Day, but it’s Doug Trumbull’s sci-fi tearjerker (shot entirely in the US) which Eden’s beautiful biomes call to mind. In 2014, this space-age heartbreaker was screened at The Eden Project, with the geodesic domes glowing in the background.

6. The Witches (1990)

Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic makes great use of the Headland Hotel, Newquay. Anjelica Huston is in show-stopping form as the Grand High Witch presiding over a fiendish gathering.

7. Blue Juice (1995)

Despite critical derision, this tale of Cornish surfers is beloved by stars Sean Pertwee and Ewan McGregor, both of whom have spoken frequently and fondly of their time shooting it in Cornwall. Remember: back in the Nineties, the Cornish surf scene was still a secret to sniffy metropolitan journos. How times have changed…

8. Saving Grace (2000)

Port Isaac and Boscastle are among the prominently displayed Cornish locations in this very likeable pre-Doc Martin comedy in which green-fingered Brenda Blethyn finds herself a dab hand cultivating marijuana. Really.

9. Ladies in Lavender (2004)

Even director Charles Dance thought the title sounded awful, but this tale of two sisters (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench) who take in a washed-up Polish man (Daniel Brühl) in 1930s Cornwall is something of an overlooked gem. Picturesque locations (including Bessy’s Cove) add rich visual charm.

9. About Time (2013)

Only the hardest of hearts could resist the magical schmaltz of Richard Curtis’s time-travelling romance. Domhnall Gleeson is the young man who inherits the ability to rewind his life from his father (Bill Nighy). Porthpean House, the village of Portloe, and Vault Beach all have starring roles.

10. Fisherman's Friends (2019)

The ‘reel-life’ story of the Cornish sailors who conquered the pop charts is retold in picture-postcard fashion. Shot with a tourist’s eye for quaint Kernow charms, this is fanciful fare in which no regional stereotype is left unturned, with Port Isaac and St James the Great Church at St Kew providing the eye-candy.

11. Bait (2019)

The defining British film of the decade tackles the thorny issue of incomers turning a fishing village into a tourist trap. BAFTA-winner Mark Jenkin shot the film with clockwork cameras in Charlestown, Penzance, Sennen and Cripplesease, then hand developed the 16mm stock in his studio in Newlyn. The result is an authentic - and quite brilliant - portrait of modern Cornwall.

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