Our Friend in the South West: Chris Williams

Our Friend in the South West: Chris Williams

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Devon and Cornwall locations are a magnet for film-makers – and never more appreciated than in lockdown, says Chris Williams.

I have never before been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty.” The words of Steven Spielberg when asked his thoughts on Devon when he was here filming War Horse on Dartmoor in 2011.  

Cinema has long held a fascination with Devon and Cornwall. Some of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors have shot here. Ang Lee filmed Sense and Sensibility in South Devon. Roger Mitchell shot My Cousin Rachel there, too, and Tim Burton has used both counties as a backdrop. 

TV dramas have a love affair with the landscape of Devon and Cornwall as well. Wycliffe was filming in Cornwall way back in 1994 for five series. Doc Martin has been running for 16 years. The Dawn French vehicles Wild West, Delicious and, most recently, The Trouble with Maggie Cole were all shot here. 

There was the Dartmoor-set Julia Ormond drama Gold Digger, and the endless succession of Rosamunde Pilcher, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier adaptions. The list goes on and on. 

But it’s not just Hollywood and TV dramas that are drawn to this most beautiful corner of the country. Factual programming has also found it a rich seam to mine. 

At Twofour, we’ve always been at the front of the line for championing the region. From two series of Cornwall with Caroline Quentin to the most recent series of Cornwall and Devon Walks with Julia Bradbury. 

In between, we’ve done everything from following the marines in Lympstone to the Royal Navy schools in Plymouth and, most recently, a holiday park in Looe! 

Others have been quick to follow with a plethora of shows, including Cornwall: This Fishing Life, Cornwall with Simon Reeve and Rick Stein’s Cornwall. And Channel 4 is on its third series of Devon and Cornwall. 

What’s driving this love affair with the South West? Is it simply a rural fantasy of a bygone age of rolling hills and sun-kissed beaches? Is it because the two counties conjure nostalgic bucket-and-spade memories of family holidays? 

Undoubtedly, Covid has a part to play in our current obsession. When it comes to leisure, the pandemic has forced us to reassess our relationship with travel, narrow our field of vision and appreciate our own backyard  
a bit more. 

But I think it has also encouraged a yearning for a more innocent world, and maybe a more relaxed and simple life. There is a perception that Cornwall and Devon are somehow trapped in a time capsule, a glimpse of Britain 30, 40 or even 50 years ago. 

It’s an idyllic vision of small-town, tight-knit communities; hardworking fishermen, caring farmers, passionate artists and independent businesses. All looking out for each other. 

It’s not just a myth, or a TV artifice. Those stories do exist. They are here. It’s not the complete picture of life in these two counties, as Simon Reeve’s series poignantly points out, but it’s at least a partial truth. 

Living and working in Devon, I’m very aware of its natural wonders, its breadth of breathtaking landscapes, its picture-postcard villages and its rich cultural history. 

But it’s more than that. It’s not just the climate, or the cream teas, the beaches or the pasties. To me, it’s the atmosphere and the attitude. The spirit of the people. 

From a programme-maker’s perspective, it’s a great place to live and work. And a great place to film, a treasure chest of heart-warming stories and stunning locations. 

At Twofour, we are very lucky to have such a bounty on our doorstep. And we are proud of this region and all it has to offer. In a world of negatives, it’s a positive that we are celebrating our homeland.  

Chris Williams is the series director of Twofour’s ITV show Cornwall and Devon Walks with Julia Bradbury