How Wales became popular as backdrop for Hollywood films

By Matt Lloyd
BBC News

  • Published
Filming for the film BeddgelertImage source, Ffilm Cymru
Image caption,
Scenery, history and a skilled workforce are making Wales popular with film producers

Wales has long sent its finest acting talent to Hollywood - but now the country itself is providing the backdrop for some movie magic.

From Richard Burton and Sir Anthony Hopkins to Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Sheen, Wales has long graced the silver screen.

But now the country is becoming an increasingly popular movie location.

Mark Wahlberg's new flick, Infinite, and the upcoming Wonder Woman movie are just the latest films shot in Wales.

A stunt for Wahlberg's new film is closing part of Cardiff city centre for two days, from midnight Saturday.

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Film and TV productions is worth more than £100m to the Welsh economy and employs 2,000 people full time, according to the Welsh Government.

Wales has become used to seeing production crews on our streets and countryside shooting TV dramas such as Dr Who, The Crown and Sex Education, which recently returned to the Wye Valley and Caerleon for the second series.

Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda revealed his new love for the Brecon Beacons, Hay-on-Wye and Caerphilly Castle after filming His Dark Materials.

But with stunning natural scenery, a skilled local workforce and co-operative local authorities, Hollywood has also taken notice.

Filming has already taken place at Swallow Falls in Snowdonia for Wonder Woman 1984, due to be released June 2020. Next year will also see the release of Dream Horse, the story of a community-owned racehorse Dream Alliance, which was shot almost entirely in south Wales.

Image source, Warner Brothers/Richard Croft/Geograph

Much has been done in conjunction with Wales Screen, part of the Welsh Government's creative industries team, and Ffilm Cymru Wales.

"We work with all types of film and TV productions encouraging them to use locations, crew and facilities throughout Wales," said a Wales Screen spokeswoman.

"Wales is really making its mark on the small screen too [so] it's such an exciting time for production in Wales.

"In addition to raising the profile of Wales as a filming location, film and TV productions funded by Welsh Government account for spend in excess of £100m in Wales, creating over 2,000 full time equivalent job and benefiting local supply chains and hundreds of businesses."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The film starring Mark Wahlberg, seen here in a scene from 2018 movie Mile 22, is due out in 2020

One of those businesses is Red Dragons Flagmakers in Clydach, near Swansea.

Founder Jo Ashburner Farr said: "The rise of Wales as a filming location has been fantastic for Wales and a is now a big part of our business.

"The film production network in Wales is growing all the time which is helping Welsh businesses employ and up-skill local people."

Ten Blockbusters Filmed in Wales

Transformers: The Last Knight

Infinite is the first Mark Wahlberg film to shoot in Wales. The battle scenes in the fifth instalment of the Transformers franchise - with a budget of $215m - were filmed at Ystrad Quarry, Blaenau Gwent.

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Captain America: First Avenger

Image source, Alamy/Jaggery/Geograph

A former MoD training camp at Caerwent, Monmouthshire, was transformed for the external shots of the 'Hydra' compound where Bucky, played by Sebastian Stan) is held captive..

Filming coincided with Newport hosting the Ryder Cup, which actors Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones were seen attending.

Clash of the Titans

Image source, Alamy

Dinorwig slate quarry in Snowdonia provided a dramatic back-drop for the volcano scenes in the film starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Sam Worthington.

Anglesey's Newborough forest was also used while all three stars were reunited in Wales to shoot the sequel, Wrath of the Titans, at Trefil quarry in Blaenau Gwent.

Legend of Tarzan

Image source, Alamy

Alexander Skarsgard swung into Snowdonia in 2014 as Tarzan for a week's worth of filming on the big budget movie, which also starred Margot Robbie, Christophe Waltz and Samuel L Jackson.

North Wales has also staged scenes for Brad Pitt's World War Z and Robert Downey Jnr flick Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I and II

Image source, Entertainment Press

All Potter fans wept when Harry's faithful elf Dobby died on the sand outside Shell Cottage. The scene was filmed at Freshwater West beach in Pembrokeshire where fans soon began leaving stones of their own. Many with the words: 'Here lies Dobby, a free elf'.

The Dark Knight Rises

Image source, Jeremy Bolwell/Geograph
Image caption,
Henrhyd Falls is the tallest waterfall in south Wales with a drop of 90ft (27m)

Who knew that the entrance to the batcave lay behind the picturesque Henrhyd Waterfall in the Brecon Beacons?

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Image source, Getty Images

Director Guy Ritchie brought his interpretation of the King Arthur tale to various locations around Snowdonia.

Filming with Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law and Eric Bana took place at Nant Gwynant, near Beddgelert, Vivian Quarry, near Llanberis, as well as Capel Curig in Conwy.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Image source, Alamy

Director Jan de Bont (Speed, The Hunt for Red October, Basic Instinct) had a budget of $95m but had to use Llyn Gwynant, Gwynedd, to recreate a Chinese village.

Snowdonia National Park also provided the back-drop as Angelina Jolie rides a motorbike along the Great Wall of China, with some CGI help.

It was not the first time Welsh locations had proved a useful substitute. Penbryn Beach in Cardigan doubled as North Korea in James Bond movie Die Another Day while, it is claimed, the giant sand dunes at Merthyr Mawr nature reserve near Bridgend were used for scenes in the 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia.

Robin Hood

Image source, PA Media

Only a few weeks after Harry Potter had left Freshwater West, award-winning director Sir Ridley Scott judged the open expansive beach as the perfect setting for his climactic battle at 'Dungeness' with Russell Crowe. The cliffs were added digitally in post-production.

Just a little further west along the Pembrokeshire coastline at Marloes Sands, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth charged on their horses in a battle scene in Snow White and the Huntsman while scenes Parts of the sequel, The Huntsman: Winter's War was filmed in the Elan Valley, Powys in 2015.


Image source, Alamy

This magical film, starting Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro, had a mythical setting at one of the Brecon Beacon's most beautiful lakes shrouded in Celtic legend.

Llyn Fan y Fach is said to be where the 'lady of the lake' handed the sword Excalibur to King Arthur.

And some older ones...

The first talkie made in Hollywood but entirely set in Wales was James Whale's 1932 black comedy, The Old Dark House, starring Melvyn Douglas and Boris Karloff.

In the classic 1981 horror, An American Werewolf in London, The Slaughtered Lamb pub, where the Yorkshire locals warned American backpackers David Kessler and Jack Goodman, was actually in Crickadarn, Powys.

Image source, Getty Images/Bill Nicholls/Geographph
Image caption,
The building used for the exterior shot is no longer a pub
Image source, Getty Images/JohnM/Geograph
Image caption,
The first castle seen in the 1975 film is Kidwelly Castle, Carmarthenshire

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