Flagship BBC series Poldark makes the most of its south west locations, with the rugged Cornish coast and surrounding areas central to its production. Andy Fry discovers the region’s wild attraction.
For some, the most eye-catching thing about BBC1’s hit drama series Poldark is seeing Aidan Turner take off his shirt. But those who manage to tear their gaze from the lead actor are rewarded with spectacular views of Cornwall’s beaches, headlands, moors and meadows.
“Poldark is set in Cornwall in the 18th century, against the backdrop of the tin and copper mining industry,” says the show’s Executive Producer, Mammoth Screen’s Karen Thrussell. “We looked at whether it was possible to do the series somewhere else in Europe but the story is so specific to Cornwall that we just had to fi lm it there. The colours, the cliffs, the sea, the landscape were exactly as it should be.”
Key locations include the iconic old mining stacks of the west Cornwall coast between Botallack and Levant, with judicious use of CGI to make them look operational. These are complemented by the likes of St Agnes Head, Bodmin Moor, Poldark Mine museum in Helston, Charlestown, Porthcothan, Camel Estuary and Church Cove, Gunwalloe; the latter the setting for a shipwreck in season one involving Turner and dozens of extras.
The production also utilises other locations throughout the region. “A lot of scenes involving interiors or town centres were filmed near our production base in Bristol,” says Thrussell, while Prior Park College, just outside Bath, and the Somerset town of Frome have also been used. Bristol’s Bottle Yard Studios plays host to interior shots, while Ashton Hill Woods doubled for Virginia, US. “Cornwall is a long way to go for interior scenes that can be done closer to home,” says Thrussell, “but aside from the logistics issue of getting there, a lot of the looks we wanted were near Bristol.”
Sky’s the limit
Season one of Poldark was shot in the summer of 2014, which meant blissful weather but competition with tourists for roads and accommodation. So production for season two was done primarily in September and October 2015. “That was challenging,” says Thrussell, “because we needed to complete as much of the shoot as possible before the weather turned. We did that by having two huge fi lm crews operating at the same time.”
David Johnson joined Poldark as Location Manager ahead of season two, and was tasked to find exciting new backdrops across the region. He is keen to feature Kynance Cove near the Lizard – “probably the most beautiful beach in Cornwall”, he says.
The challenge for Johnson was “not just finding beautiful locations but assessing whether they are right for the production”. He notes: “You don’t want them to be five miles down a narrow lane or too near a campsite where people will complain. You’ve also got to make sure you’re not using locations people have seen before.”
Talking to landowners is also a key part of Johnson’s role, and he says his Cornish contacts were very film-friendly. “The main reason you come to Cornwall is the coast and the moors, so you could be talking to local farmers or dealing with large landowners such as the National Trust, the Duchy of Cornwall, St Aubyn Estates and Lord Falmouth Estates,” he says. “Either way, I haven’t encountered problems, and the council and police have been friendly.”
Shooting in Cornwall presents its own particular challenges but Thrussell relishes working in the region. “I love shooting in Cornwall,” she says. “We came here with another BBC production, And Then There Were None. That story is more associated with Devon, but we ended up in Cornwall because it has such dramatic, beautiful beaches. I think the cast and crew had a great time.”