Best children's films set in the British countryside
Inspire children to enjoy the outdoor world with these family-friendly countryside film classics
It's great to get children outside - but sometimes the weather keeps them cooped up, or they need some inspiration to embark on adventures. What better way to entertain and enthuse children about the great outdoors than showing them some magical cinematic adventures set in rural Britain? For those rainy days, or those reluctant explorers, we have rounded up our favourite films set in the countryside.
And once children have had their imaginations fired up, why not visit the landscapes in question, whether it's the rolling Yorkshire hills and thrilling steam trains of The Railway Children or the Highland beach setting of What We Did On Our Holiday.
From the kooky animated comedy of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit to the heart-rending drama of Kes, here are the best children's films set in the countryside...
Swallows and Amazons (2016)
Director: Philippa Lowthorpe
Arthur Ransome’s classic Lakeland adventure story was brilliantly reimagined for the screen in 2016. Set in 1935, the story follows the holidaying Walker children – the Swallows – and their plans to camp on an island, which has already been landed by two other children – the Amazons. The Lake District in summer looks idyllic, and the story is pacy and spiced with jeopardy. An excellent cast includes Andrew Scott, Rafe Spall, Kelly Macdonald, Jessica Hynes and Harry Enfield, and the kids are great too – including Orla Hill, Dane Hughes and Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen.
What We Did On Our Holiday (2014)
Directors: Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin
This overlooked release is a bit of a gem, featuring stunning shots of the Highlands, excellent turns from the cast and a genuinely funny and thoughtful script. The plot follows recently separated Doug (David Tennant) and Abi McCloud (Rosamund Pike) and their three children as they travel to the Highlands to celebrate the 75th birthday of Doug’s father Gordie (Billy Connolly). Family reunions are rarely straightforward and that is true here, as the characters navigate death, divorce and depression with a remarkable lightness of touch, all while set against magnificent beaches and tales of Vikings. Filming locations include Gairloch and Drymne, near Loch Lomond.
The Railway Children (1970)
Director: Lionel Jeffries
Based on E Nesbitt’s classic story, The Railway Children captured hearts with its tale of the Waterbury children, who move from London to West Yorkshire following the arrest of their father for espionage. The children are fascinated by the workings of nearby Oakworth railway station, befriending the porter and a regular passenger. Through their heroic deeds, they earn themselves the name ‘the Railway Children’. This 1970 film classic remains well-loved to this day.
The Railway Children Return (2022)
Director: Morgan Matthews
Jenny Agutter reprises her role as Bobby Waterbury, who is now a grandmother. Set during the Second World War, The Railway Children Return follows three children evacuated to Yorkshire from Manchester, who find solace in the countryside – and also discover a US serviceman sheltering in the railway sidings. Both films feature the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, and it is wonderful to see the steam trains travelling in their glory through the beautiful West Yorkshire countryside.
Enola Holmes (2020)
Director: Harry Bradbeer
This rollicking adventure will entertain the whole family, as intrepid Enola tackles the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Although young Enola (Mille Bobby Brown) has been overlooked by her big brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, she has nonetheless been thoroughly trained by her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham-Carter) in the skills necessary to solve a complex conundrum. As Enola travels around the country to crack the case, striking locations include Arley station, Kidderminster Town station and Victoria Bridge in Worcestershire, Ashridge Estate and Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, Benthall Hall in Shropshire, West Horsley Place, Surrey and Minley Manor in Hampshire.
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Directors: Steve Box and Nick Park
Aardman has a knack of affectionately lampooning stereotypes in their delightful animations and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit is no exception. The scatty lady of the manor, the trigger-happy country gent, the village fete, the local bobby and anxious vicar all appear in this charmingly loopy tale, in which inventor Wallace accidentally swaps brains with a rabbit. With Tottington Hall’s vegetable competition fast approaching, Wallace and Gromit must stop a giant beast from raiding the village’s vegetables while hunter Victor stalks the creature with killer intent.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Director: Rob Reiner
Filmed in England and Ireland, this enchanting fairytale weds adventure, comedy, fantasy and romance to glorious effect. Beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright) 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, newly betrothed Buttercup is kidnapped by outlaws – but a man in black is in pursuit. 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. Viewers can spot several stunning sites in the Peak District, such as Cave Dale, Robin Hood's Stride and Lathkill Dale, as well as the magnificent Haddon Hall as Humperdink's Palace. Other notable locations include Buckinghamshire's Black Park Lake, and Burnham Beeches as the fire swamp. With guest roles from comic icons Billy Crystal, Peter Sellers and Christopher Guest, this swashbuckling adventure is hilarious, to boot.
Director: Ken Loach
Billy Caspar is an outcast, bullied at school and home, and left to fend for himself. His only friend is Kes, a kestrel that he trains diligently in the art of falconry. Based on the 1968 novel A Kestrel for A Knave by Barry Hines, Kes is a hard but compelling watch, thanks to the performance by David Bradley in the lead role, and offers powerful insight into the harsh education system of the time, and the hardship of poverty in a South Yorkshire mining town. Be prepared to shed tears.
Harry Potter series (2001-2011)
Director: Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, David Yates
This spellbinding series introduces our hero and sees him inducted into Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he makes friends, meets enemies and masters his magical powers, before building to a climactic showdown with his nemesis, Lord Voldemort. The films capture the enchantment of the books, transporting children to fantastical places that are as bewitching as their imaginations can conjure – no mean feat. Enraptured young viewers can be enticed to follow in Harry’s footsteps to various filming locations across Britain, such as Durham Cathedral, Alnwick Castle, Lacock Abbey, Goathland train station, Loch Etive, Glen Coe, Glenfinnan Viaduct, the Jacobite Steam Train, Ashridge Wood, Seven Sisters Country Park, Virginia Water and Malham Cove. Little witches and wizards can have fun matching the setting to the scene.
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Maria Hodson is production editor at BBC Countryfile Magazine, alongside Margaret Bartlett. Since moving to Bristol in 2014, Maria has made every effort to escape into nature and loves all things wild and watery, from surfing and swimming to paddle-boarding and kayaking. Her adventure highlight in recent years was sea kayaking around remote St Kilda, off the coast north-west Scotland, in 2016. Most weekends, however, are spent exploring the great outdoors with her small child and doing accessible walks. Favourite family adventures are bird-watching at Slimbridge Wetland Centre and exploring the Forest of Dean, as well as an annual pilgrimage to see the starling murmuration on the Somerset Levels.
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