5 Best Films about England

England Week

 This week is all about England. Yesterday we talked about a mystery novel based on Shakespeare, today it is movies and Friday we’ll look at a popular T.V. series–all of which lure travelers to England.


A Guest Post by Traveler’s Bro

Period Costumes at Hampton Court
Period Costumes at Hampton Court

FIVE BEST BRITAIN MOVIES (for architecture, interiors, famous places, historical ambiance)

  • The Queen(2006)
  • Persuasion (1995)
  • Shadowlands (1993)
  • Remains of the Day (1993)
  • Richard III (1995)


  • A Man for All Seasons (1966)
  • Howard’s End (1992)
  • Richard III (1995)
  • Tom Jones (1963)
Hampton Court Clock Tower
Hampton Court Clock Tower

In an opening scene of Fred Zinneman’s 1966 A Man for All Seasons we find ourselves traveling up the Thames on the Royal Barge. Leading us with wine and music is raucous Henry VIII (Robert Shaw). The river and landscape are an inviting gold and green. Never mind that it’s really the Beaulieu River in Hampshire standing in for the fabled Thames. It’s what the Tudor Thames should look like, and you want to go see this glowing scene for yourself. I was lucky enough to live in Kingston-upon-Thames for a while and it was easy to reimage the film scene on afternoon shoreline walks near Hampton Court, another filming site for that production.

Visit any of the grand country estates and you might recall the great house in James’ Ivory’s Remains of the Day (1993), expecting to see the all-wise and stolid butler (Anthony Hopkins) and housekeeper (Emma Thompson) ordering an army of servants about the endless halls of what was in fact Badminton House in Gloucestershire.

[Note from VMB: Yes, that IS where the game of badminton originated. Although it is a private home, they are open for events and have two open garden days, June 12 and 14.  According to the web site, “We also have cottages and houses on the estate to let and from time to time the occasional days shooting.” Didn’t say what they shoot, bur presumably it is not movie fans who stumble in unawares.]

The late Edwardian period leading into 20th century wars and other upheavals has spawned innumerable novels and film versions thereof depicting the glittering yet troubled twilight of the old Empire as seen in Howard’s End, Gosford Park, and A Room with a View. In James Ivory’s Howard’s End, 1992, (again Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson), we catch glimpses of this era through views of Admiralty Arch and Court of St. James in London, Magdalen College in Oxford, and Wigmore Hall in Marleybone (ah, those wonderfully eccentric English place names!).

The Tower of London
The REAL Tower of London

The ambiance of England in the thirties and forties is recreated through music, costumes, and architecture in Richard Loncraine’s 1995 version of Shakespeare’s Richard III (Ian McKellen), which cleverly moves the 15th century story into the 20th, portraying the wolfish king as a fascist dictator. The ominous Tower of London is ably played by the Battersea Power Station in Battersea. Other more colorful filming sites include Brighton Pavilion in Brighton and Earls Court and Lincoln’s Inns Fields in London.

A more comic view of brighter times and landscapes is the focus of Tony Richardson’s rollicking Tom Jones (1963) with Albert Finney and Susannah York romping and rutting through the pleasant countryside and inns around Bridgewater, Somerset.

For antidote to all this 18th century silliness, see Richard Attenborough’s Shadowlands (1993) which reviews the touching story of writer C.S. Lewis’ (Anthony Hopkins) too brief late-in-life romance with his Joy, “that American woman” (Debra Winger). Scenes shot at Christ Church Meadows, the famed Bodleian Library, and Magdalen College give the feeling of Oxford life in mid-century.

For a more modern view there is, of course, Stephen Frears’ The Queen (2006) with Helen Mirren as HRH Elizabeth II and Michael Sheen as PM Tony Blair. The most dramatic scenes are shot in and around Blairquhan Castle in South Ayshire, Scotland, grandly representing the royal Balmoral estate.

Finally, one would be remiss in not mentioning at least one of the dozen films spawned by Jane Austen novels. Roger Michell’s 1995 version Persuasion is shot in Bath with views of its famous Pump Room, Roman Baths, and sights along Bath Street. The robust Jane Austen tourist industry is ready to provide special film site tours in the area.

The exterior of most of the filming locations listed above can be photographed on your U.K. vacation. Several allow interior tours. However, although you can visit some rooms between April and July, you may need a special invitation from HRH to get into her private rooms at Balmoral Castle.

[NOTE: Traveler’s Bro was having so much fun listing movies, that he included this list of–well I’ll let him explain.]

 5 movies that would make you want to avoid going to the U.K.

  • Trainspotting
  • Sid and Nancy
  • Sex Lives of the Potato Men
  • The Long Good Friday
  •  Pink Floyd’s The Wall

[Note from VMB: You might want to check out some of those London place names in your new copy of I Never Knew That About London. You DID order your copy right after reading this review, didn’t you? And if you’re traveing with kids, don’t miss Loathsome London.]

Traveler’s Bro, semi-retired from teaching,  lectures on movies and culture. We are most grateful to him for sharing his infatuation with England and with film.

All photos used here are the property of Vera Marie Badertscher, taken in the year 2000, and scanned from prints for this post.  Although the quality is not the greatest, I would still appreciate no copying without permission. Thank you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

9 thoughts on “5 Best Films about England

  1. England for me is a fantasy land, one of those places I fear I will like better for only dreaming about it.

    I like to view the world from a boy’s eye and the most sweetly remembered England that I can think of is John Boorman’s “Hope and Glory”.

    It’s not a theatre film, of course, but there should be some list where we cam remember the lovingly detailed England of “Brideshead Revisited”.

  2. I have enjoyed a number of these films, including The Queen. Thank you for the interesting perspectives on them.

    May I point out, though, that just like its stand in for the filming of The Queen, Balmoral is in Scotland? Scotland and England are different countries. Both ruled by the Queen, yes, but different countries.

    1. True, Kerry, but Bro was writing about United Kingdom, despite the fact that my series is titled England, so technically, he’ still okay, I think.

  3. Some great movies listed here. In fact, just reading the article is luring me back to England. I totally agree that Trainspotting, while a very well done movie, does NOT inspire travel to Britain!

  4. Thank you for yet another engaging post. Having lived for many years in England, I commend Traveler’s Bro on his historic film choices. His second (and perhaps more intriguing) list of films that presents England in a starker light barely scratches the surface. May I add to it, for starters, An Education and Eastern Promises?

    1. Lucky for me, I guess, that I have heard of very few of the negative-travel movies that Bro mentioned, and neither of the ones you mention.

Comments are closed.