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Best British rural romantic films

Love is in the air and the landscape in our round-up of the best romantic films set in the British countryside.

Alamy
Published: March 4th, 2022 at 12:29 pm

What gets the heart racing? Romance and rural idylls, of course. With our great affection for the beautiful countryside, it's no wonder we have a particular soft spot for a love story set in the landscapes of rural Britain.

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In honour of those intense affairs of the heart, we have gathered some of the best romantic films set in the British countryside. Why not experience the enchantment yourself by visiting these bewitching locations, including the rolling Dorset hills of Far From the Madding Crowd, Supernova's majestic Lake District setting, the grand houses of Pride and Prejudice or the wild moors of Wuthering Heights?

Alternatively, cosy up at home and let yourself be swept away by the drama of these grand passions and epic landscapes.

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Carey Mulligan and Tom Sturridge in Far From the Madding Crown
Carey Mulligan and Tom Sturridge in Far From the Madding CrownAlamy

Thomas Hardy's romantic classic is one of the great English love stories, and the 1967 film version, starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp, is a sumptuous pastoral feast. Directing duties for this 2015 version passed to Thomas Vinterberg – who, as founder of the stripped-back Dogme 95 school of filmmaking, is best known for the bleakly brilliant Festen – and it transpires to have been a sound decision. Vinterberg directs the tale with great delicacy and the delights of rural Dorset are beautifully captured. At times slow moving and slightly dreamlike, the film resounds with a lush romanticisation of the countryside, as harvests are gathered, hay stacked, sheep dunked and corn sold at market. Slight, elfin Carey Mulligan is unlikely casting as the hardy, wilful farm lass Bathsheba but she adeptly captures the spirited heroine’s turbulent inner life. Michael Sheen is brilliant as ever as the unstable and tormented Farmer Boldwood and Matthias Schoenaerts is strong and stoic as Gabriel Oak. As the scarlet-coated Sergeant Troy, Tom Sturridge is less devilish and daring than Terence Stamp’s 1967 incarnation, but he conveys the soldier’s weakness and vanity well. Beautifully rural, drenched in changes of season and scenes of working farm life along with stunning locations and gorgeous shots of the Jurassic Coast, it’s a pleasure to view.


Jane Eyre (2011)

Director: Cary Fukunaga

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre
Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in Jane EyreAlamy

The classic gothic romance, Jane Eyre treads a fine line between love story and thriller, as our governess heroine falls in love with brooding Mr Rochester while simultaneously being terrorised by a strange presence that stalks the corridors at night and seems determined to see everything burn. This 2011 adaptation is ably supported by the cast: Mia Wasikowska is a contained and non-histrionic Jane; Michael Fassbender makes an intense and desperate Rochester; Judi Dench gives Mrs Fairfax a steadiness that helps ground the far-fetched aspects of the tale. The Derbyshire Dales feature heavily: Haddon Hall becomes Thornfield Hall; Rochester's horse rears up in the woodland of Chatsworth House; and Jane flees in distress to the rain-soaked moors. Director Cary Fukunaga is loyal to the darkness of the novel, capturing its psychological grimness, and has said that the film's location was key. "Northern England – Yorkshire and Derbyshire, the moors and dales – they look like they're something straight out of a Tim Burton horror film. The trees are all twisted by the wind; the bracken and the heather on the moors have this amazing hue. And the weather is so extreme and it changes all the time. The house even, Haddon Hall, is just so steeped in history, the spaces, the galleries, they sort of just breathe and you feel the presence of the history."


45 Years (2015)

Director: Andrew Haigh

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling as Geoff and Kate Mercer in 45 Years
Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling as Geoff and Kate Mercer in 45 Years / Alamy

Contemplative and meditative, 45 Years studies the impact of old memories resurfacing to disrupt the steady affection of a long marriage. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are excellent as Kate and Geoff Mercer, a childless Norfolk couple preparing to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. Their comfortable existence, pottering around an old farmhouse outside Norwich, is shaken following the discovery of the remains of Geoff's former girlfriend Katya, who died many years ago while hiking in the Swiss Alps. Despite the inherent drama of such an event, the story remains sober and understated – Geoff's distress is quiet, revealed subtly in his resumption of smoking and low, isolated moods. Rampling is superb as a wife trying to fathom the significance of this lost love. Filmed on the Norfolk Broads, the flat wintry landscape beautifully reflects the tenor of the film.


Wuthering Heights (2011)

Director: Andrea Arnold

Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer as young Heathcliff and Cathy in Wuthering Heights
Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer as young Heathcliff and Cathy in Wuthering HeightsAlamy

This 2011 adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic dark romance stars Kaya Scodelario as Catherine and James Howson as Heathcliff, although the first half is dominated by their younger counterparts, Shannon Beer as young Cathy and Solomon Glave as early Heathcliff. The film is formidable in its raw earthiness, rich with foreboding shots of the moor and whipped through with a biting wind that seems to inform every scene. Artfully weighty shots of a dying rabbit or hung pheasant and beautifully bruising panoramics of the landscape accompany the mean, harsh existence of life at the farmhouse. Everything is raw and brutal, creating a savage and uncomfortable love story that seems wildly unsuited to the word 'romance'. It is a hard, heavy experience, much like the life of its protagonists. Filmed in North Yorkshire, Cotescue Park in Coverham became Thrushcross Grange, while Moor Close Farm in Thwaite is Wuthering Heights.


Emma (2020)

Director: Autumn de Wilde

Anya Taylor Joyce stars in Emma
Anya Taylor-Joy stars in Emma / Alamy

Light, bright and frothy, Emma is a fantastically decorated confection, drenched in brilliant colour. The costumes are starched and pressed, the scenes crisp and dazzling and the landscape elegant and beautiful. Anya Taylor-Joy is our 'handsome, clever and rich' heroine, partial to match-making and perfectly assured of her own powers and privilege. Bill Nighy plays her fretful, hypochondriac father, who spends his time trying to identify and suppress imaginary chill breezes blowing into their grand, comfortable house. Emma is, of course, destined for a fall, as her smug certainty and naive snobbery cannot go unchallenged in a Jane Austen tale. Will the friendship of Miss Smith, the arrival of Jane Fairfax and Mr Churchill, and the sharp observations of old friend and eventual romantic interest Mr Knightley (a dashing Johnny Flynn) serve to alert Emma to the error of her ways? Autumn de Wilde makes her directorial debut with an appealingly quirky sense of style and detail, while Miranda Hart is wonderful as Miss Bates, both comically pathetic and sympathetic. Location-wise, an especially stunning scene takes place on the summit of 'Box Hill', in fact filmed on Leith Hill in Surrey, in which a socially disastrous picnic contrasts with the jaw-dropping beauty of the location. Locations also include Firle Place in Sussex, as the exterior of Emma's house, and Lower Slaughter in the Cotswold as the fictional village of Highbury.


Supernova (2020)

Director: Harry McQueen

Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci in Supernova
Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci in SupernovaBBC Films

Filmed in the Lake District in autumn, Supernova stars Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as Sam and Tusker, partners of 20 years who have been left reeling by Tusker’s dementia diagnosis. Choosing to prioritise time together, they embark on a road trip in a campervan across England, visiting family and friends. The two leads deliver deeply affecting performances, while the landscape mirrors the beauty and drama of the love story. Filming locations include Whinlatter Pass, Buttermere, Crummock and Borrowdale, Cumbria.


Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Director: Joe Wright

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice / Alamy

It's no easy feat to take on a book as well-known and well-loved as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, especially following the BBC's highly regarded 1995 adaptation starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. But this 2005 film adaptation delivers a fine telling of the tale, assisted by an all-star cast, lively script and sensitive direction. Keira Knightley is clever and level-headed Elizabeth Bennet, the sober counterpoint to her sisters, beautiful Jane (Rosamund Pike), awkward Mary (Talulah Reilly), flighty and frivolous Lydia (Jena Malone) and silly Kitty (Carey Mulligan). Donald Sutherland is the avoidant patriach Mr Bennet, husband to the irrepressibly ambitious Mrs Bennet (Brenda Blethlyn), while Matthew Macfadyen is the haughty hero, Mr Darcy. Scenes feature Stanage Edge in the Peak District and Derbyshire's Chatsworth House (often considered Austen's inspiration for Pemberley), Stourhead in Wiltshire, Groombridge Place in Kent (as Longbourn, the Bennet residence), Basildon Park in Berkshire (Netherfield Park) and Stamford in Lincolnshire as the fictional village of Meryton. Knightley and Macfadyen have a delightful chemistry as Lizzie and Darcy, equal parts friction and frisson.


Ammonite (2020)

Director: Francis Lee

Kate Winslet as Mary Anning and Saoirse Ronan as Charlotte Murchison in Ammonite
Kate Winslet as Mary Anning and Saoirse Ronan as Charlotte Murchison in Ammonite / Alamy

Set in 1840s Lyme Regis, this romantic drama is as stirring as the wave-raked Dorset shores that form much of its backdrop. Written and directed by Francis Lee, the film is based loosely on the life of British palaeontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and her possible relationship with geologist Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan). Expect morose, contemplative scenes on Lyme’s pebble beaches, mixed with love and learning. The perfect film to watch on a cold night with the fire lit. (Daniel Graham)


Submarine (2010)

Director: Richard Ayoade

Craig Roberts as Oliver and Yasmin Paige as Jordana in Submarine
Craig Roberts as Oliver and Yasmin Paige as Jordana in Submarine Alamy

Set in Swansea, Submarine is a quirky little gem from Richard Ayoade, making his directorial debut. Oliver is an unpopular 15-year-old with a huge crush on his soulful classmate Jordana. What makes this coming-of-age tale stand out is its off-beat comedy and artful, stylish delivery, from the performances to the cinematography. Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige are great as the precocious Oliver and Jordana, and there are excellent turns from Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins as Oliver’s parents, as well as Paddy Considine as a neighbouring spiritual guru. The surroundings often have a starring role, with sweeping shots of Swansea Bay, Pontsticill Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons and Barry and Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan.


The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society (2018)

Director: Mike Newell

Lily James and Michiel Huisman in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Lily James and Michiel Huisman in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Alamy

During the Second World War in Guernsey, a group of islanders invent a book group – hastily named the Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society – in order to avoid suspicion while breaking curfew under German occupation. Five years later and the book group are joined on their Friday night gathering by London author Juliet Ashton (Lily James), who has come to research the society and the history of German occupation. Affection grows between Juliet and Dawsey (Michiel Hausman), but prior attachments and old secrets make for a rocky road. Much of the filming took place in Clovelly, Devon, and the surrounding area, which stood in for Guernsey in 1946.


Brief Encounter (1945)

Director: David McLean

Celia Johnson and Trevor Johnson in Brief Encounter (1945)
Celia Johnson and Trevor Johnson in Brief EncounterAlamy

Nearly 80 years on, Brief Encounter continues to top polls as one of the greatest British films ever made. Adapted from Noel Coward’s stage play and directed by David Lean, the 1945 film stars Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard as railway passengers Laura and Alec in a tale of romance and impossible love, as their respective marriages forbid any future together. Many of the scenes were shot at Carnforth Railway Station in Lancashire to avoid the blackout restrictions and wartime disruption that affected filming in London. The station and its refreshment room feature as the backdrop to their first chance encounter and to their final, reluctant, tear-jerking parting. (Chris Gee)


The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain

Director: Christopher Monger

Hugh Grant stars in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain
Hugh Grant stars in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995) Alamy

Set in 1917, the story follows two English cartographers – George Garrad and Reginald Anson – who offend the residents of fictional Welsh village Ffynnon Garw by announcing that their proud mountain is only a hill. In response, the villagers determine to rectify this by adding the necessary height to qualify it as a mountain. Huge Grant stars as Reginald, who falls in love with Cardiff girl Betty (Tara Fitzgerald) and the area itself. Although it was filmed in Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant and Llansilin in Powys, the tale by director Christopher Monger is based on the real-life story of Taff Well’s and its neighbouring Garth Hill in Glamorgan, leading to visitors climbing the hill in homage.


The Go-Between 

Director: Joseph Losey

Alan Bates and Julie Christie in THe Go-Between
Alan Bates and Julie Christie in The Go-Between (1971) Alamy

Adapted by Harold Pinter from a story by LP Hartley, The Go-Between tells the story of Leo (Dominic Guard), a young boy who is goes to stay with his school friend Marcus at his family’s country house. There, he is tasked with delivering romantic messages between Marcus’s elder sister Marian (Julie Christie) and farmer Ted (Alan Bates). In the process, Leo becomes besotted with beautiful Marian. Marion’s parents are determined that she marry the wealthy Viscount Trimingham (Edward Fox), however, and impending tragedy builds with the heat of the summer. Filmed at Melton Constable Hall, Heydon and Norwich in Norfolk, sultry shots of Norfolk fields and farms are backed by a soundtrack by Michael Legrand.

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Authors

Maria Hodson is a production editor at BBC Countryfile Magazine. When not running around after a three-year-old, Maria loves all things wild and watery, from surfing and swimming to paddle-boarding and kayaking.

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