Just for a moment, I’m going to assume that you’re not a weirdo, in which case if I were to ask you to name a country which you associate with the movies, it’s unlikely that your first choice would be Wales. Even if you’re Welsh.
Sadly, Welsh culture hasn’t traveled anywhere near as well as English, Scottish, and Irish culture. It’s rare to find a Welsh character in a Hollywood film, and practically unheard of to have a major movie which is actually set in Wales.
The future looks brighter for Wales now that the BBC have moved their drama department to Cardiff, making such TV shows as Doctor Who and Sherlock. Also, Pinewood Studios have recently opened a film studio in Cardiff as well, which is a boost of confidence in the area.
Given Wales’s low movie profile, you may be surprised to find out about some of the well-known movies which have actually been filmed in Wales (albeit very briefly in some cases)…
“Whaaat?!” I hear you shriek, “Wasn’t Highlander filmed in Scotland? I mean, it’s called Highlander for God’s sake.”
Well, yes. For the most part the Scottish bits of Highlander were actually filmed in Scotland. However the final scene, where [SPOILER!] MacLeod returns to the Highlands, was filmed in Conwy, North Wales instead.
Why was it filmed in Wales rather than Scotland like all the rest of the Scottish scenes? Well, I’m guessing that this scene was probably added to the film after production had wrapped.
I get the feeling that either the studio or a test-screening audience felt that the movie needed an extra scene to wrap up MacLeod’s story more neatly, and since Wales is much closer to London than Scotland is, I’m guessing they went there in order to cut down on traveling times, and to avoid having to put people up in hotels overnight just for the sake of one scene.
The dialogue in the scene is even done as a voice-over, so they didn’t need to take a sound crew with them.
“Eh?” I hear you say, perhaps a bit more tentatively this time, “Wasn’t Holy Grail famously filmed in Scotland as well?”
Well, yes again. For the most part Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed in Scotland. However, the filming of this movie ran into numerous difficulties, not least of which being that just before they started filming, the Scottish authorities refused permission to film in all the castles the Pythons were planning on using, so at very short notice they had to find new, privately owned, castles to film at.
And so Castle Stalker stood in for Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh, and Doune Castle stood in for… every other castle in the film!
Now, in some respects, using one location to stand in for lots of different places on-screen is a great idea because you don’t have to waste time and money moving the film unit between different locations. The problem was that the Pythons couldn’t show long shots of the castles because it would be obvious that they were all, in fact, the same castle.
Their solution was to send out a small unit to various locations just to get establishing shots of different castles. And the castle which provided the establishing shot for the first castle in the film just happened to be Kidwelly Castle, on the south-west coast of Wales.
Why that particular castle in Wales? I’ve no idea.
It’s quite difficult to think of a country in the English-speaking world which is less similar to the world of Batman than Wales. Gotham City is a dark, sprawling, crime-ridden American metropolis. Wales is a pleasant, quiet, and largely rural country whose national pastime is singing. And they sometimes don’t even speak English. What they do have, however, is waterfalls.
So, when a waterfall was needed to portray the entrance to the Batcave, and because there aren’t a huge number of waterfalls in the home counties where the UK filming was concentrated, what better place to go than ‘Waterfall Country’ in the Brecon Beacons National Park?
James Bond has, in the course of his cinematic adventures, visited both England and Scotland numerous times – most notably in the movie Skyfall – But he has never taken an on-screen trip to Wales.
Behind the scenes however, while the James Bond movies are renowned for their exotic foreign locations, sometimes, for various reasons, those countries have to be doubled by locations in the UK. Wales has appeared in the James Bond franchise a couple of times – always just for a few shots, and always second-unit shots with none of the stars present.
In Die Another Day, Bond and the girl du jour end the film in a clifftop hut in North Korea. For reasons I hope I don’t need to explain, they couldn’t actually film this scene in North Korea, so Wales was chosen as a stand-in instead.
And very lovely it looks too.
There is an apocryphal story that after making this film, Bernard Bresslaw was in an Indian restaurant when one of the waiters approached him and asked if he had enjoyed filming in his home-country.
Now, I’m going to be charitable and assume that the waiter came from a different part of India than that depicted in this film, because it really doesn’t look like the Khyber Pass at all. It looks exactly like what it is – a small footpath up a Welsh mountain. So the reason it appears in this list isn’t because of how convincingly it stands in for somewhere else, but because of how unusual a location it is in the history of the Carry On movies.
The Carry Ons were notoriously cheap. Apart from stock footage, not a single shot in any of the Carry Ons was filmed outside of the home counties. Even wildly ambitious scenes set in such diverse settings as the old American west, the Sahara Desert, revolutionary France, and the Spanish coast, were filmed no more than commuting distance from Pinewood Studios.
So this is an anomaly, being shot over 200 miles away in a different country. Was it worth it? Well Carry On Up The Khyber is regarded by many as one of the defining Carry On films. Whether that’s a good thing, I’ll leave up to the reader’s judgement.