The recent announcement by CNN Travel that the James Bond film Skyfall is one reason why they have named Scotland the world’s top travel destination for 2013 got me thinking …. What other well-known films have been shot in Scotland, and where ?
Here’s my Top 10 list of famous films and their locations. I already knew about many of these films but only once I started looking into it did I realise that we’re spoilt for choice – a great many films have been set in Scotland. I’m indebted to the Scotland: The Movie Location Guide website for collating all of this information, including film stills, into one place.
So what criteria did I use to compile my Top 10 ? Well, it’s clearly going to be very subjective – and a topic to fuel many a long pub conversation – but it really came down to two criteria. Firstly, I’ve chosen films that not only show off Scotland’s fantastic scenery and culture in the best light (with the exception of Trainspotting …) and secondly, good films that are worth watching time and time again. While not everyone may agree, I think it’s a pretty good list of the best films shot in Scotland.
10. Mrs Brown
Mrs Brown tells the story of the scandalous relationship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her servant, John Brown (Billy Connolly). Dench was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for the film in 1997. It was shot in three locations, at Duns Castle in the Borders (see above), at River Pattack (near Laggan) and at the Ardverikie Estate in Badeonoch.
I found Trainspotting a really depressing film I have to say. It’s definitely not an inspiring film, showing an aspect of Scotland that no one can be proud of, but it nevertheless has been ranked 10th in the British Film Institute’s Top 100 films of all time. It portrays a group of heroin addicts in the late 1980s, based on Irvine Welsh’s book, starring Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald. Much of the film is set in Edinburgh (but also shot in Glasgow) but one of the most memorable scenes shows the gr0up getting off a train at Corrour Station on the West Highland line. (For walkers, you will be familiar with this station and the tea room close to Loch Ossian and the Grey Corries).
8. Chariots of Fire
Chariots of Fire tells the fact-based story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics – Eric Liddell, a devout Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, a Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. It won four Oscars in 1983 including best picture and music score, and is ranked 19th in the British Film Institute’s list of Top 100 British films. Chariots of Fire has scenes filmed in Scotland at the Sma Glen near Perth, St Andrews and Edinburgh (including Salisbury Crags near Arthur’s Seat, pictured).
7. The Thirty Nine Steps
The 1959 version of the Thirty Nine Steps, after the John Buchan novel, shows the most extensive set of film locations, largely in the Trossachs in Central Scotland. The plot has diplomat Richard Hannay getting inadvertently embroiled in the death of a British spy investigating the head of an organisation planning to sell the secret of a British ballistic missile. Hannay travels to Scotland to escape the police – including jumping from a moving train on the Forth Rail Bridge – and attempts to complete the spy’s work. In the scene above you can see the ferry slipway and ferry at North Queensferry, before the Forth Road Bridge was built.
6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The 1975 Monty Python comedy parodies King Arthur’s quest to find the holy grail. Despite telling this very English story, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was almost entirely filmed in Scotland. It has scenes filmed at Glen Coe, Perthshire, Rannoch Moor and a variety of castles across Scotland. The scene above was shot at Doune Castle, near Stirling (well worth visiting, by the way). Many visitors to this day visit the castle given its Monty Python connections.
5. Whisky Galore!
A classic 1949 Ealing comedy film (released in the US as Tight Little Island) based on the novel Whisky Galore by Compton MacKenzie. It tells the story of the unauthorised smuggling of whisky from the cargo of the shipwrecked S.S. Politician, which happened in real life near the island of Eriskay. The scene from the film above shows the town of Todday (Castlebay in Barra, in the Western Isles).
4. Gregory’s Girl
Gregory’s Girl is one of my all-time favourite films and has a cult following in Scotland but not, I suspect, anywhere else in the world (although it did win a BAFTA as Best Film in 1982 for director Bill Forsyth). I think the description of the film from the Movie Location Guide pretty well sums it up: “In a Scottish new town, Gregory, a school footballer becomes aware of…girls! Life is OK for Gregory – even when he loses his star position in the football team to gorgeous Dorothy of 5a. Demoted to goalie, he now has time to revel in her triumphs on the field and to dream of the possibilities that just may lie ahead…off the field. But his interest is not entirely reciprocated. Will he survive a rebuff ? Can his friends cure him of his terrible infatuation ? Will he score with Dorothy ? Will he score at all ? Who’s going to be Gregory’s girl ?”.
It’s a delightful film brilliantly played by John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn and Clare Grogan in the less-than-delightful Cumbernauld of 1981. The scenery is … well … a concrete new town just north of Glasgow but it perfectly fits the romantic coming-of-age subject matter. Given I was a similar age to the cast at high school in 1981, I and others from my generation can entirely relate to it !
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This is the second of the Harry Potter series of films based on the J. K. Rowling books and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Many of the films were partly set in Scotland but the Chamber of Secrets has a famous scene where Harry and Ron have taken Ron’s dad’s magical car to fly back to Hogwarts school, having missed the Hogwart’s Express. Here we see the Ford Anglia flying towards the Glenfinnan Viaduct on the Forth William to Mallaig train line, one of the finest rail journeys in the world.
2. Local Hero
Local Hero was Director Bill Forsyth’s follow up to Gregory’s Girl in 1983. It’s another delightful comedy-drama that looks at the conflict between a Texas oil company and the canny residents of a Scottish fishing village, whose land is needed by the Americans for their North Sea oil base. The cinematography is fantastic and is a true advertisement to some of the best scenery Scotland has to offer. The soundtrack, by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, is also considered some of his best work.
Local Hero was filmed in several locations around Scotland. Most of the Ferness village scenes were filmed in Pennan on the Aberdeenshire coast (where the red telephone box stood, although its location was changed in the film), and most of the beach scenes at Morar and Arisaig on the west coast.
Skyfall is the 23rd James Bond film and the first since the days of Roger Moore to be filmed in Scotland. While shot in many locations around the world (London, Turkey, Macau) the final scenes are shot in Glen Coe and Glen Etive in the West Highlands. Skyfall is the 14th highest-grossing film worldwide, netting over $1 billion, and the highest-grossing film in the UK.