30 great films with Sussex connections
PUBLISHED: 00:00 29 May 2020
Credit: Allstar Picture Library Limited / Alamy Stock Photo
In this strange era of COVID-19, many of us have found ourselves with more time to devote to film-watching. From classic literary adaptations to Bond spy thrillers, we’ve curated our top 30 set in Sussex or filmed in the county.
MGM’s lavish adaptation of Enid Bagnold’s evergreen novel tells how a 12-year-old butcher’s daughter, Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor), helped by a vagabond ex-jockey (Mickey Rooney), wins the Grand National steeplechase. Although set in Sussex, the film was made entirely in California. It’s an occasionally winsome but enjoyable yarn that remains a popular favourite among adults and children alike.
Leonardslee Gardens in West Sussex serves as hillside gardens in Powell & Pressburger’s 1947 psychological melodrama about the tensions that brew within a convent of nuns (led by Deborah Kerr) in an isolated Himalayan valley. Jack Cardiff won the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his stunning work on the film.
More than 70 years after its release, this adaptation of the Graham Greene classic enjoys an unassailable status as one of the greatest British films ever made. It’s a classic thriller, a terrific gangster movie and boasts the irredeemably evil teenage hoodlum Pinkie Brown, played with unblinking conviction by the late Richard Attenborough, himself only 23 at the time.
Henry Cornelius’ road-movie comedy, set during the annual London to Brighton vintage car rally, is an English classic. Bristling sexual tension and splendid performances from John Gregson, Kenneth More, Dinah Sheridan and Kay Kendall, make it as charming today as on its first release. Larry Adler’s harmonica-soaked score, which won him an Oscar nomination, also makes it especially lovely to listen to.
This satisfying murder mystery set in Brighton benefits from the reassuring presence of Jack Warner (Dixon of Dock Green himself) as the detective on the case. Director Val Guest adopts an unsensational, pseudo-documentary approach that concentrates on the often laborious details of police procedure, as the identity of the dead woman is ascertained and her killer is slowly unmasked.
The Leather Boys
Butlins holiday camp in Bognor Regis makes an appearance in this British kitchen sink drama about the rocker subculture in London. It was considered daring in 1964 as it touches on homosexuality, albeit obliquely.
Oh! What a Lovely War
This British comedy and musical film, directed by Richard Attenborough (in his debut beind the camera), features an ensemble cast which reads like a Who’s Who of 1960s British cinema. It tells the story of World War I through the popular songs of the time, some sarcastically reworded by the soldiers at the Front. Made in 1969, it rides the wave of contemporary ‘make love not war’ sentiment. Brighton Pier represents World War I, with the British public entering at the turnstiles, and General Haig selling tickets.
Carry On Girls
The old Clarges hotel on Marine Parade, Brighton, once owned by Dora Bryan, features in this late-period Carry On, in which local councillor Sidney Fiddler (Sid James) persuades the mayor to help improve the image of their rundown seaside town by holding a beauty contest. But formidable Councillor Prodworthy, head of the local women’s liberation movement, has other ideas.
This film version of the Who’s rock opera makes a few tentative stabs at explaining the alienation of 1960s British working-class youth, but its major selling point is its non-stop rock-and-R&B musical score. Phil Daniels plays Jimmy, a member of a well-dressed, drugged-up teenage gang called the Mods, forever in conflict with the Rockers. The rivalry between the two gangs comes to a head during three tempestuous days in the seaside town of Brighton.
A View to a Kill
This was Roger Moore’s seventh and last outing as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond, in which he is pitted against Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) who plans to destroy California’s Silicon Valley. The film’s climax at Zorin’s mine was filmed at none other than Amberley Museum (then Amberley Chalk Pits) in West Sussex.
Wish You Were Here
Brighton, Worthing and Bognor Regis feature in this film about Linda Mansell’s rebellious adolescence in 1950s Sussex, loosely based on the life of the famous British brothel-keeper Cynthia Payne. Locations include the Dome cinema in Worthing. Emily Lloyd (daughter of the late Roger Lloyd Pack) stars.
Beautiful but poor Swiss governess Elisabeth (Sophie Marceau) meets secretly with an English landowner, Charles Godwin (Stephen Dillane), to conceive a child in exchange for money. Seven years later, the two are drawn together again when she joins Charles’ forlorn household in the Sussex countryside, as a governess. This period romance, written and directed by Sussex screenwriter William Nicholson, was filmed at Firle Place, as well as in surrounding farmland and the village church.
The End of the Affair
Neil Jordan brings an austere poetry to the exhausted shabbiness of the 1940s in this Graham Greene adaptation, saturated with the author’s trademark Catholicism, sex and guilt. Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes) is a well-regarded English novelist – Greene’s unflattering self-portrait – whose passionate love affair with a married woman (Julianne Moore) leads him into a fatal duel, not with her husband, but with God Himself. The couple spend a weekend in Brighton and inevitably pay a visit to the Royal Pavilion. A Regency house in Eastern Terrace, Brighton, was transformed into a seedy hotel.
Pierce Brosnan stars in this Richard Attenborough biopic about the real-life Hastings-born schoolboy-turned-Indian trapper Grey Owl (real name, Archibald Belaney), who emigrated to Canada, pretending to be indigenous, and inspired the world with his authentic tales of wilderness life and his plea to protect forest habitats. The movie was partly filmed in Hastings.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Ralph Fiennes makes his first appearance as Lord Voldemort in this fourth instalment in the Harry Potter film franchise. The Seven Sisters make a welcome appearance, too, as the magnificent backdrop to the Quidditch World Cup. Teasing terrors and skin-crawling set pieces earned this film a 12A certificate.
This film tells the story of Brian Jones, one of the founding members of The Rolling Stones. It takes as its premise that Jones (Leo Gregory) was murdered by Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine), a builder who had been hired to renovate Jones’ house, Cotchford Farm, in East Sussex. It also paints a picture of Jones’ use of alcohol and drugs, and his relationships with Anita Pallenberg and Anna Wohlin.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
There are some startling moments in this Sellar-and-Yeatman retelling of the story of England’s Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, and her golden years. The story begins in 1585, as Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) must contend with plots directed by Spain’s Philip II to topple her with a seaborne invasion. The rolling hills at Petworth appear in a scene where the Queen goes riding with Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen).
My Boy Jack
David Haig is a dead ringer for Sussex writer Rudyard Kipling in this TV film tracing the author’s search for his 17-year-old son Jack (Daniel Radcliffe) after he is reported missing during World War I. Based on Haig’s 1997 play of the same name, this BAFTA-nominated drama, co-starring Kim Cattrall and Carey Mulligan, was partly filmed at Kipling’s former home, Bateman’s, in West Sussex.
Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging
Gurinder Chadha’s ultra-girly coming-of-age drama is adapted from Brighton author Louise Rennison’s popular Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series. The lead character is Georgia (Georgia Groome), a bright, shy girl who isn’t the prettiest schoolgirl on her pastel-painted terraced street in Eastbourne, but nonetheless dreams of snagging the perfect boyfriend.
This was the second time Graham Greene’s classic novel has been made into a film – and it doesn’t match up to the 1947 original. This version is set in 1960s Brighton and sees the Mods and Rockers going head to head on the seafront and Brighton Pier.
The Inbetweeners Movie
Gatwick Airport near Crawley features during the early stages of this comedy as four sex-obsessed nerds jet off to Crete for a holiday. Packed with outrageous sexual shenanigans, out-of-control party antics and cheekily rude humour, the film follows the quartet as they try to break their lifelong losing streak with the ladies.
This quirky comedy directed by Charlie Weaver Rolfe features not just Brighton’s streets and landmarks (the West Pier and Brighton Lanes among others), but also some of its local bands. A film about falling in love, it also manages to cover important themes such as David Hasselhoff, flapjacks, Bulgarians and learning disabilities.
20,000 Days on Earth
Brighton is one of the main stars of this critically acclaimed documentary, which charts a single day in the (fictional) life of Nick Cave. Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, the film charts the ups and downs, joy and sadness of Brighton-based Cave, through his music and writing.
Petworth Park in West Sussex doubles up as Malificent’s moors in this live-action retelling of the Disney 1959 animated classic, Sleeping Beauty. In addition to the pitch-perfect casting of Angelina Jolie in the title role, the screenplay adds a daring feminist spin to the source material and reveals the elements of the evil fairy’s betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone.
Petworth House and Park, the home of one of JMW Turner’s greatest patrons – George Wyndham, third Earl of Egremont – shines in Mike Leigh’s biopic of the great Romantic painter. Timothy Spall gives an admirably warty and unpleasant performance as Turner, an arrogant and uncompromising man who’s annoyed by his celebrity in Britain but shocked when the public turns against his work.
Ian McKellen brings affection and grace to a whimsical portrait of an elderly Sherlock Holmes, struggling with his memory and his myth. Set primarily during his retirement in Sussex, the film follows a 93-year-old Holmes who struggles to recall the details of his final case because his mind is slowly deteriorating. Hailsham and the dramatic white cliffs of the Seven Sisters were used as locations.
Hopes for DC’s plan to deliver a shot of oestrogen to the superhero movie genre are disappointed in a silly plot that enlists Diana of Themyscira, AKA Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), to help win World War I. Arundel Castle makes a guest appearance as a German-controlled castle.
This is as much a film about a man going through a mid-life crisis as it is about Pooh and Eeyore gambolling in Hundred Acre Wood. Re-engaging with Piglet, Pooh and the other critters from his childhood enables Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) to see life in a newer, brighter perspective. Worth seeing if only for the dazzling shots of Ashdown Forest.
Stan & Ollie
Worthing Lido plays a starring role in this BBC-funded film which features Sussex-based actor Steve Coogan and John C Reilly as the famous comedy duo, as they embark on a music hall tour of the UK in 1953. The two leads excel in his bittersweet film about the twilight years of the great double act.
Firle Place doubles up as Hartfield in this amiable new film adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, directed by Autumn de Wilde. Anya Taylor-Joy revels in the role of the handsome, clever heroine with a sadistic streak, but Bill Nighy steals the show (and the laughs) as the valetudinarian Mr Wodehouse.