Because of their international renown, their connection to many real life famous and successful personalities, and their beautiful and historic buildings, Oxford and Cambridge have been featured in a number of films. Here are some of the best known examples.
The Harry Potter series The Harry Potter series is undoubtedly the most famous on this list, and its filming locations are a major draw for tourists. With some of the oldest and most beautiful university buildings in the country, Oxford was used as a film set and as inspiration for Hogwarts in a number of scenes in the Harry Potter films. The Great Hall in Christ Church College was the inspiration for the dining hall at Hogwarts. However, the staircase leading up to it was actually used as a real location in the first and second films. In The Philosopher’s Stone, the Bodleian library represented the Hogwarts library, while the neighbouring Divinity School was featured as the Hogwarts hospital wing in four of the films. The Harry Potter series is the second highest-grossing film series in history, making a total of 7.7 billion dollars.
The Golden Compass This 2007 adaption of Philip Pullman’s book Northern Lights is partly set in an alternative-universe version of Oxford. As a result, several real Oxford locations feature in the early scenes of the film. Near the beginning, the protagonist, Lyra, saves Lord Asriel, a fellow of the fictional Jordan College played by Daniel Craig, from a poisoning attempt. They subsequently walk through the real world’s Exeter College Fellows garden. Radcliffe Square is also featured early on, as is Christ Church Meadow and Queen’s College, where we have previously hosted students for Oxford Summer College. In the quad of Christ Church itself, Mrs Coulter, played by Nicole Kidman, boards a (computer generated) Zeppelin with Lyra, leaving Oxford for London.
X-Men: First Class This prequel to the X-men trilogy explores the origins of the X-men and Professor Xavier’s early career. The young Charles Xavier, played by James McAvoy, graduates from the University of Oxford at the beginning of the film. The movie features the exterior of the Sheldonian Theatre, St Aldate’s Street, the Bridge of Sighs, and a few other Oxford buildings. The film crew worked in the city for two days, but Oxford only features in the film for a few minutes, which is probably for the best, considering the X-men film’s track record for destroying iconic architecture!
The Theory of Everything The Theory of Everything is a 2014 biographical drama based on renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Much of the film focuses on his relationship with his first wife, Jane Wilde, and the onset of his motor neuron disease, both of which occurred while he was a graduate student at Cambridge. As a result, the city and the university feature prominently in the film. Locations used include St John’s College, the Kitchen Bridge, the riverbank near the Cambridge Bridge of Sighs, and several Cambridge streets. The movie won two Golden Globe Awards and three British Academy Film Awards.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows In terms of actual filming, Cambridge features very little in Guy Ritchie’s 2011 film, starring Robert Downey Junior as Sherlock. However, the film’s antagonist, Professor Moriarty, teaches at Cambridge, and when Holmes goes to visit him, a shot establishes it as being King’s College, where we have previously held our Cambridge Summer College. However, the actual scene in which Sherlock and Moriarty meet is filmed in Hampton Court Palace in Surrey.
Chariots of Fire A 1981 Academy Award winning historical drama based around two British athletes who competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics and each won an Olympic medal in running events. One of the pair, Harold Abrahams, was a student at the University of Cambridge during his first Olympics and whilst training for the second. However, while a few establishing shots of Cambridge University are used, Cauis College refused permission for the filmmakers to use their property and so Eton College near Windsor was used as a stand-in.
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