Best British Countryside Comedy Films
Here is our round-up of the funniest films shot in rural Britain, where you can delight in laughter and the landscape.
The great outdoors and a hearty chuckle are two of our favourite things. So what better way to enjoy both than with our top countryside comedy films, from old corkers to new chortlers?
We've rounded up our favourites below, reliving some wonderful moments in the process and giving details of locations so you can visit and do the same. Why not head up to Glen Coe on your next trip to Scotland and trace the path of iconic Holy Grail scenes, including the multi-purpose Castle Doune and the 'Bridge of Death' at the River Coe? Or practise some tai chi near the Yorkshire village of Kettlewell, where Calendar Girls was based?
Failing that, you can always tuck yourself away on a rainy Sunday afternoon, hunker down with a cuppa and enjoy some serious comfort viewing in the British countryside.
Best British Countryside Comedy Films
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Director: Edgar Wright
Sean Pegg and Nick Frost team up again in this rip-roaring, rib-tickling action-comedy about a pair of police officers investigating mysterious deaths in a small West Country village. Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a high-achieving metropolitan detective transferred to the village of Sandford, Gloucestershire where he is partnered with cop-movie-enthusiast Danny Butterman (Frost), an eager but inept young officer. The combination of Nick's high-octane policing in a sleepy village, alongside exaggerated characters in rustic settings, proves some highly entertaining moments. There are several scene-stealing comic turns from a cast that's jam-packed with stars, including Olivia Coleman, Bill Bailey, Lucy Punch, Jim Broadbent and Timothy Dalton. Filming took place in Wells, Somerset, hometown of director Edgar Wright, and there is great humour in the film's affectionate pokes at the quirks of rural life.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Director: Rob Reiner
A personal favourite for many since childhood, The Princess Bride is an enchanting fairytale that weds adventure, comedy, fantasy and romance to glorious effect. The story follows beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright), who falls in love with dashing farmhand Westley (Cary Elwes), but is heartbroken when Westley goes missing, presumed killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Five years later, Buttercup – now betrothed to someone else – is kidnapped by outlaws, but the party is pursued by a man in black. Recounted by a grandfather (the late, great Peter Faulks) to his increasingly rapt grandson (Fred Savage), the story boasts fire swamps, shrieking eels, dizzying sword-play, castles and magic, making perfect family viewing.
Filmed in Ireland and England, viewers can spot several stunning sites in the Peak District, such as Cave Dale, Bradley Rocks, Robin Hood's Stride, Carl Wark, Lathkill Dale (the gleeful 'Battle of the Wits' scene) as well as the magnificent Haddon Hall as Humperdink's Palace. Other notable locations include Buckinghamshire's Black Park Lake, where Buttercup is spirited away by boat, Burnham Beeches as the fire swamp, and Penshurst Place in Kent, home to the climactic sword fight. With guest roles from comic icons Billy Crystal, Peter Sellers and Christopher Guest, this swashbuckling adventure is hilarious, to boot.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)
Director: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones
We can't talk about British comedy without mentioning Monty Python, and here are the Python crew in all their glory and medieval finery – larking, fighting and trotting on foot through the hills and glens of Scotland, where much of Holy Grail was filmed.
The 14th-century Castle Doune in Glen Coe stars as most of the castles in the film, with different areas used ingeniously. The Great Hall appears as Camelot's main hall; the kitchen becomes Castle Anthrax, where Michael Palin's Galahad and his knights are impeded in their quest by attractive maidens; the courtyard features as Swamp Castle, where John Cleese's Sir Lancelot slaughters the wedding guests, and the French soldiers famously hurl their insults – "I fart in your general direction!" – from the courtyard walls.
Elsewhere, the ‘Bridge of Death’ crosses a gorge at the Meeting of Three Waters on the River Coe, while Argyll and Bute's Castle Stalker stars as the ‘Castle of Aaargh’, the island location of the Grail. Meanwhile in England, Essex's Epping Forest provides the setting for the famous Black Knight scene – "tis only a flesh wound!" – which is still quoted today about those who stagger on past the point of sensible struggle. All in all, a joyfully ridiculous romp.
Nuts in May (1979)
Director: Mike Leigh
Mike Leigh's delightful tale follows the camping adventure of a self-righteous middle-class couple who have high hopes for a peaceful holiday in the great outdoors, only to find themselves sited near PE teacher Ray (Anthony O'Donnell) who has the temerity to listen to a radio while camping, among other perceived misdemeanours. Their week is further compromised by the arrival of Finger and Honky, a couple who revel in motorbikes and late-night drinking. Roger Sloman is excellent as civil servant Keith Pratt, an uptight eccentric with a strong sense of how rural holidaying should be, while Alison Steadman proves a wonderful foil as childlike Candice-Marie, who drifts along with Keith's oddities and authoritarianism. The action takes place almost entirely outdoors on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, and features Corfe Castle, Lulworth Cove, Kimmeridge Bay, Stair Hole and the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site, as well as the campsite itself. There are many moments of outright comedy but the joy is also in the detail, including a day trip to a local quarry, dreadful folk songs, simmering class conflict and a clash over campfire sausages. The result is a fantastically funny portrait of human nature running amok in nature.
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Whisky Galore! (1949)
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Whisky Galore! tells the story of a small community on a fictional Scottish island who attempt to salvage as much whisky as possible from a recent shipwreck off their coast, which contains thousands of cases. Wartime rationing has left the islanders without whisky, and this gift from the sea is an opportunity too good to miss. However, to succeed in their plan, they must outwit straightlaced Captain Wagget of the Home Guard and the Custom & Excise officers. Produced by Ealing studios, the film was shot on Barra and the cast were housed with islanders, due to limited accommodation. Hostile weather delayed production but the final film, featuring romance, rocky landscapes and much mischief, continues to cheer audiences today. The tale is based on a real event, in which the SS Politician sank off the coast of Eriskay in 1941 while carrying 264,000 bottles of whisky, which islanders set out to salvage, some wearing their wives' old dresses in order to avoid incriminating ship's oil on their clothes.
Calendar Girls (2003)
Director: Nigel Cole
In 1999, Rylstone Women’s Institute in North Yorkshire produced a different kind of calendar. Eschewing the usual images of sheep, verdant valleys and daffodils, 12 middle-aged women posed as models for tasteful nude photos – each wearing nothing but a string of pearls, but with discretely placed flowers, knitting, books or vases – in an effort to raise modest funds for a leukaemia charity. Instead, they sold hundreds of thousands of copies and gained unexpected international fame. Inspired by this true story and with a stellar cast, including Dame Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, Calendar Girls is an enchanting comedy/drama set in a village in the rolling Yorkshire countryside, mostly shot in and around the village of Kettlewell. Delightful scenes show once-reluctant WI members begin to cast off their modesty and relish the risqué photo shoots. But soon fame and TV appearances create a new set of problems. Superbly acted, this is all the more poignant for being essentially a true story. MB
Director: Christopher Morahan
John Cleese stars as unfortunate headmaster Brian Stimpson in this classic comedy of misadventure. Despite setting exacting standards of his pupils when it comes to punctuality and presentation, Simpson is beset by disaster as he attempts to travel to the annual Headmasters Conference to give a key speech. In escalating fury, Cleese lurches brilliantly from one catastrophe to the next, as missed trains, malfunctioning telephone boxes, misunderstandings and muddy mishaps thwart his progress. He is complemented by a strong cast, including Alison Steadman as Gwenda Stimpson and Penelope Wilton as former university friend Pat. The rural scenes are shot mainly in Shropshire, including the pretty village of Much Wenlock. A riotous road farce capturing details of life in 1980s Britain.
Local Hero (1983)
Director: Bill Forsyth
Following the success of Gregory’s Girl, writer and director Bill Forsyth created this charming and quirky comedy that bathes viewers in romantic scenes of Scottish coastal life. ‘Mac’ MacIntyre (Peter Riegert), an American oil executive, is sent by his Texan company to buy the fictional town of Ferness on Scotland’s west coast, in order to build an oil refinery. His boss, Happer (Burt Lancaster) is an astronomy buff and is keen that Mac reports what he sees in the sky there. Initially reluctant to go at all, Mac befriends the local Knox representative Danny (Peter Capaldi), and is increasingly beguiled by life in Ferness, struggling with his conscience while he attempts to close the sale. Danny, meanwhile becomes enchanted by Marina (Jenny Seagrove), a local marine researcher with webbed toes, who seems to know more than most about mermaids. The film is shot around Scotland - the village scenes are Pennan in Aberdeenshire, while most of the beach scenes are Morar and Arisaig on the west coast. Other featured locations include Moidart, Lochaber, Loch Eil, Loch Tarff and Fort William. With a soundtrack written and performed by Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits, Local Hero is a magical, gentle masterpiece.
Director: Sean Foley
This brilliantly silly action-comedy stars Julian Barrett as Richard Thorncroft, a washed-up actor who once played TV detective Bruce Mindhorn, famous for his robotic truth-seeing eye. Thorncroft is pulled out of obscurity by police on the Isle of Man in order to help them capture a delusional escaped prisoner who will only negotiate with Mindhorn, believing him to be a bona-fide detective. The action plays tongue-in-cheek homage to the naff British 1980s cop series Bergerac, as Mindhorn (Barrett on top form) ricochets around his old stomping ground causing chaos. Distinctive island features include the Great Laxey Wheel and the Sea Terminal in Douglas, plus the genuine Manx parade at the end. Sporting a thick Scandinavian accent and few clothes, Simon Farnaby steals scenes as a former stuntman who has since shacked up with Thorncroft's co-star and ex-girlfriend (Essie Davis), while the heavily studded cast includes Steve Coogan and Andrea Riseborough. It's ludicrous joy ride around the Isle of Man, packed with laugh-out-loud moments.
Director: James Rouse
An overlooked gem, this lovely tale follows four old school friends – Gordon, Keith, Steve and Julian – as they tackle Arthur Wainwright's Coast to Coast route from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay, a trek of 192 miles. Supposedly filmed on a hand-held camera by Luke, Gordon's son, the middle-aged walkers stagger through windy map-reading, tough climbs, twisted ankles, rain, recriminations, old wounds and new. Respite is found in traditional pubs, pints and packets of crisps, and the journey is as emotional as it is physical. Running throughout, however, is a warm sense of humour and wry wit as the characters navigate mid-life crises. Richard Lumsden's Gordon is the lynchpin doing his best to hold the whole adventure together; Ned Dennehy is wonderfully wild as livewire Julian, who wreaks havoc as he attempts to stave off age and responsibility; Karl Theobold is the taciturn Keith, bottling up his emotions; while Jeremy Swift is entertaining as out-of-shape Steve, who struggles to stick to the walking schedule. Filming took place as close to the coast-to-coast route as possible, in 2012, during the wettest June on record, and was shot sequentially as the cast made their way from west to east. As a result, this "road movie on foot" has an authenticity that beautifully captures the highs and lows of long-distance walking. A delight.
Restless Natives (1985)
Director: Michael Hoffman
While working in a joke shop, two skint lads from Wester Hailes in Edinburgh decide to make some extra cash by holding up coaches disguised as a wolfman and clown, with unintended consequences for the tourist industry. These modern-day highwaymen driving a Suzuki GP 125 motorbike capture national attention, and become popular folk heroes to many. Beautiful scenery of the Scottish Highlands contrasts with scenes of grey urban life, while a rousing soundtrack from Scottish rock band Big Country adds gusto to the riotous adventures.
What have we missed? Let us know of your favourite British countryside comedy films.
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.