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Why Norfolk takes a starring role as a major location for TV and film

Cley Windmill stands on the edge of the village and overlooks the marshes which were used for the film The Duchess with Keira Knightly
Cley Windmill overlooks the marshes used in the film The Duchess with Keira Knightley

The stunning scenery and magnificent historic buildings in North Norfolk have provided fabulous backdrops for many major international films and television series.

Film and TV stars across the decades - such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Eddie Redmayne, David Tennant, Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Elizabeth Taylor, and Charlotte Rampling along with Stephen Fry, Peter Davison, Ian McShane and Martin Shaw - are just some of the many celebrities to appear in blockbuster movies and iconic TV programmes shot in Norfolk.

If you want to see why so many film makers head to the county, search the archives and watch some of these memorable films and television series and spot the locations. Then add them to your list when planning your holidays.

Holkham, one of the most unspoilt and beautiful stretches of sand in the country, is a favourite beach for filming. Its scale and solitude have attracted film makers for years. The panoramic beach features in the closing shots of the 1999 romantic drama film Shakespeare in Love whose star-studded cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Judi Dench, Joseph Fiennes and Colin Firth.

Miles of white sand at Holkham have attracted many film makers
The stretch of white sands at Holkham have been a pull for many film makers (photo courtesy Holkham Estate)

The beauty of the north Norfolk region has seen films using locations along the coast including Cley, Salthouse, Cromer, and King’s Lynn.

Villages inland which have taken a starring role include Langham, Little Walsingham, Heydon, Walpole St Andrew and RAF Marham.

And the magnificent and architecturally outstanding country houses of Holkham Hall, Blickling Hall and Sandringham have frequently made an appearance.

Other Norfolk locations include the city of Norwich and its elegant and picturesque streets such as Elm Hill, its university and cathedral, and the Norfolk Broads - 200 kilometres (120 mile) network of navigable rivers and lakes.

Films shot in North Norfolk: For those who enjoy a vintage war film, The Dambusters (1954) sets the benchmark. Spot the now-deserted Langham airfield, between Langham and Cockthorpe, as you watch the classic tale of Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bomb. The film stars Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave. The film's locations also feature King’s Lynn and The Wash, which doubled as the Dutch coast.

Another wartime thriller Glorious 39 (2009) used Little Walsingham Abbey and Little Walsingham House along with scenes of the hill-top church in Salthouse and Holkham Hall. The cast includes Eddie Redmayne, David Tennant, Christopher Lee, Bill Nighy, Jenny Agutter, Julie Christie, Hugh Bonneville and Romola Garai.

The Royal Family’s home in Sandringham was the location for the BBC TV drama All The King’s Men (1999), starring David Jason and Dame Maggie Smith. It tells the story of a group of First World War volunteers from the Sandringham estate, led by estate manager Captain Frank Beck, who disappeared at Gallipoli.

The marshes at Cley were used in The Duchess (2008) based on the life of the late 18th-century troubled English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. The film, starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, was also shot inside the 18th century Palladian house Holkham Hall - one of north Norfolk’s most significant film locations.

Holkham Hall was used in the filming of The Duchess (photo courtesy Holkham Estate)

The seaport and market town of King’s Lynn has been a backdrop in many films. The latest is Armando Iannucci’s comedy-drama film, The Personal Life of David Copperfield (2019) adapted from Charles Dickens’ novel. It has a starry cast including Tilda Swinton, Dev Patel, and Hugh Laurie. Other scenes were shot in Weybourne, east of Blakeney.

Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2015), a British action comedy film with a low-speed car ‘chase’ from Norwich to Sheringham, comes to a thrilling conclusion in a shoot-out on Cromer Pier.

Cromer Pier is 151m long and Victorian designed. It is home to the Pavilion Theatre and Cromer LifeBoat Station.
The Victorian-designed Cromer Pier has starred in TV and film. It is home to the Lifeboat Station and Pavilion Theatre.

Television series shot in North Norfolk:

Dad’s Army – nine series and 80 episodes about the hilarious exploits of the Home Guard (1968 to 1977) was filmed in Thetford, Diss and Sheringham.

Kingdom (2007-09) a TV drama starring Norfolk actor Stephen Fry as a small-town solicitor dealing with the eccentric people of his neighbourhood, was based in Fry’s home town of Swaffham.

The Chief (1990-1995) was a police drama based in Norfolk and filmed in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Gorleston.

Lovejoy (1986-1994), a comedy/drama about a roguish but loveable antique dealer starring Ian McShane, was filmed in Norwich.

A Very Peculiar Practice (1986-1988), a black comedy about a young doctor, was filmed at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected (1979-1988) used Oxburgh Hall, Thetford Forest and Norwich among its backdrops.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1971), a satirical comedy, also came to Norfolk to film an episode in Heydon and Wolverton.

Normal for Norfolk (2016-2017) starring the eccentric landowner, bon viveur and English gentleman, Desmond MacCarthy is a BBC2 documentary about his daily efforts in running his farm and baronial hall at Wiveton, a village neighbouring Blakeney. It had a cult following and is a must watch. And the Hall's cafe is a great stop off to enjoy the excellent food, the views of the sea, and the atmosphere of this magical coastline.

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