By Milan Perera, Arts Critic Columnist
This is not hyperbole: the city of Bristol is a shining beacon of creative arts in the UK. Whether it is film and television, street art, music or dance, Bristol is a vibrant pastiche of Georgian architectural gems, cobbled streets, engineering marvels of I.K Brunel, markets, cafes and green spaces. It comes as no surprise that Bristol has been one of the most sought-after film and television locations, with a host of famous production companies additionally dotted around the city.
With a new academic year on the horizon, the city eagerly awaits the arrival of a fresh crop of students from the length and breadth of the country and beyond who will make Bristol their home for the next three to four years; as the autumn draws in with silky skies and long evenings, the streaming platforms prepare to go into overdrive.
To compile a list of movies and Television dramas set or filmed in Bristol is nothing short of a herculean task list; nonetheless, here is a list of movies and TV dramas either set or filmed in Bristol whose locations you might recognise.
One of the most successful teenage drama series of the 2000s, Channel 4’s Skins has undoubtedly impacted British culture for its unfiltered portrayal of teenage lives: from reckless partying, messy relationships, and mundane school life to mental illnesses, excessive drug use and bereavement. Skins is commended for its raw yet melodramatic representation of British teen life, especially for those living in Bristol, given that this iconic show is set in the heart of the city.
College Green, Brandon Hill and Trenchard Street Car Park are regular locations for the show, where many memorable scenes, including the opening credits, take place. College Green appears the most frequently, in episodes like ‘Michelle’ (Series 1, Ep.7) and ‘Everyone’ (Series 3, Ep.1), as one of the main ‘hang-out’ spots for teenagers- which is notably still used by many students today.
Not even a ten-minute walk from College Green and a steep hill later, sits Brandon Hill on Park Street: a serene setting full of benches which overlook the city, where Cassie and Sid share an intimate moment at the end of season one. Other hot spots for the filming of Skins include St. Nicholas Market, the Harbourside and Castle Park, which are central locations that are worth visiting.
Starter For 10 (2006)
A rare gem of a movie featuring the who’s who of British Cinema. The stellar cast includes the A-listers Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, Alice Eve, Dominic Cooper, Catherine Tate, Charles Dance and James Corden. Based on the debut novel of the Bristol alumni, David Nicholls of the same title, the story revolves around the coming of age of Brian Jackson from Essex.
Brian wins a place to study English Literature at the University of Bristol. Surrounded by students from affluent backgrounds, Brian (James McAvoy) tries his best to fit in with his peers with varying degrees of success. It is both funny and sad in equal measure as Brian navigates the pitfalls of studying at a prestigious university such as the University of Bristol.
Features various famous Bristol landmarks such as Royal York Crescent, the Student Union at the Richmond Building, Stoke Park and Bristol Temple Meads station.
Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003)
As a British sitcom goes, it does not get any bigger than this. The iconic television comedy gold, starring David Jason as the wheeler-dealer Derek “Del Boy” Trotter and Nicholas Lyndhurst as his hapless brother Rodney, enthralled generations and is still being watched on streaming platforms today.
Although the story is set in Peckham, London, the all too familiar Nelson Mandela House tower block is, in fact, Whitemead House located in Bedminster. The series also features Welsh Back, Broadmead Shopping Centre, Aston Gate and the White Horse as Nag’s Head.
Written by the Bristol-born BAFTA winner, Jack Thorne, Kiri tells the story of the abduction of a young black girl called Kiri, who is about to be adopted by a middle-class, white foster family.
The four-part series, starring Sarah Lancashire, was filmed at various immediately recognisable Bristol landmarks such as Clifton Suspension Bridge, St. Andrew’s Park, Gloucester Road, Bear Pit, Cumberland Basin and Eastville.
The Oldham-born actress jokes about the difficulty she faced while mastering the Bristolian accent with thick “r” s. In your opinion, how did she fare?
The Outlaws (2021-)
The Outlaws marks the homecoming of the Bristol-born comic Stephen Merchant. Although Merchant boasts of an extensive list of credits in film and television, Outlaws happened to be the first Bristol-based television project for the seasoned comic.
Written, directed and starred by Merchant, the cast includes Rianne Baretto, Gamba Cole, Jessica Gunning and Hollywood royalty, Christopher Walken. It also features a cameo by the Bristol-born comic Jayde Adams. The story surrounds seven strangers from various social backgrounds who are ordered to complete Community Payback due to petty criminal charges.
The series sent Bristol trending on Twitter for three consecutive years, where Merchant became the unexpected ambassador for Bristol. Filmed at the length and breadth of Bristol. The film locations include Stokes Croft, St. Paul’s, Montpelier, College Green, Park Street, Wills Memorial Building, Clifton, Floating Harbour and many more. Which locations can you immediately recognise?
BBC favourite, Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, has often chosen the city as its preferred filming location. In fact, the practice has become so regular that the Bristol Film Office has since created a “Sherlock Locations Trail” for keen-eyed fans.
One such hotspot is the St Mary Magdalene Church on Stoke Hill, where the exterior of Mary and John’s wedding episode was shot in the episode “The sigh of Three”. Filming did not stop there, however, as the Goldney Hall Orangery was also featured in the episode as the setting of Sherlock’s famous best man speech.
A slightly less light-hearted but equally exciting destination on the tour is the Arnos Vale Cemetery. Designed originally to emanate a walled Greek Necropolis, the haunting feel of the area made it the ideal spot for the episode entitled “The Abominable Bride”, starring Andrew Scott as the charming but evil Moriarty.
Before We Die (2021-)
Critics called it “a breathless crime thriller, full of heart-stopping jeopardy and unpredictable twists.” Based on the Swedish crime thriller of the same name, the six-part drama tells the story of a cat and mouse game between the police and the ruthless criminal underbelly. There is a fair share of bloodshed, murder and betrayal. Starring Lesley Sharp in the titular role as the Detective Inspector, Hannah Laine, who is determined to track down the killers of her lover.
Filmed at various locations in Bristol which are immediately recognisable such as Brandon Hill, Clifton, Stokes Croft and Horsefair and not so easy-to-spot venues such as Clarence Road, Kingswood and St. Philip. It also includes drone-shot aerial views of Sparke Evans, Netham and Castle Parks.
The success of the crime thriller with a strong hint of Scandi-Noir was phenomenal, and it was commissioned for a second season. So, keep your eyes peeled...
Doctor Who (1963-)
Across its thirty-eight seasons, Doctor Who (1963-) has been filmed in numerous locations across the United Kingdom as well as the globe. A lesser known but frequently selected destination is Bristol itself, with its artistic features and hidden gems being a favourite for television’s longest-running science fiction show.
In 2012 The University of Bristol’s Royal Fort House was used for the opening scenes of the season seven premiere episode. Located just a five-minute walk from The University, the building was used as the setting of the Doctor’s companion, Amy Pond’s photo shoot. As one of Bristol’s beautiful open spaces, the location is a perfect detour for students returning from lectures.
Another frequented spot for the iconic show is the Redcliffe Caves. The man-made tunnels, located on the south of Bristol Harbour, were once inhabited by the eighteenth-century pottery producers, but in 2017 they became, briefly, the home to the Tardis. The eerie setting is easy to spot in the season 10 episode, “Empress of Mars”, starring Peter Capaldi.
More recently, this June, David Tennant was spotted in Baldwin Street, near St Nicholas Markets and Clare Street, filming an array of action-packed scenes which included exploding cars, frantic extras running from the fire, smoke, and crispy black Mini cooper. It is said that he was filming a special episode, out in October, for the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who.
Featured Image: IMDB
This Fresher's Week, why don't you venture out into Bristol and try to find all of these film and TV hot spots?