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Sunday May 19th 2024

Shadowlands | 1993

Shadowlands film location: Symonds Yat, Herefordshire
Shadowlands film location: CS Lewis and Joy Gresham find the Golden Valley: Symonds Yat, Herefordshire | Photograph: wikimedia / David

Dry old stick CS Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) discovers emotional commitment with spirited American Joy Gresham (Debra Winger) just as she discovers she has terminal cancer, in Richard Attenborough’s filming of the William Nicholson play.

Lewis, author of the Chronicles Of Narnia, was an Oxford don, and the film naturally includes many of the University’s landmarks.

Shadowlands film location: Magdalen College, Oxford
Shadowlands film location: the choir sings from the tower at sunrise on May Day: Magdalen College, Oxford

The college, at which Lewis teaches, and suffers the cynicism of his fellows, is Magdalen College (which is pronounced 'maudlin'), and the film opens with a service in the its magnificent with its 15th century Chapel. Afterwards, the dons process to a formal meal in Magdalen’s carved oak Dining Hall.

Lewis later studies in Duke Humphrey’s Library (which is where Harry tries to find out about Nicholas Flamel in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone).

Joy is amused by the Pageant of Learning and the singing of the National Anthem in the Sheldonian Theatre (also seen in the 1997 film of The Saint as well as Michael Cimino’s epic Western Heaven’s Gate).

The house Lewis shares with his brother Warnie (Edward Hardwicke) is the Stable Lodge of Norney Grange, which you can see on Shackleford Road just north of Elstead Road, near Shackleford in Surrey.  Norney Grange itself, an Arts & Crafts-style house designed by Charles Voysey in 1897, was seen as the home of tennis pro Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) in 2004 romcom Wimbledon.

Lewis first meets Joy Gresham in the Fellows Lounge of the five-star Randolph Hotel, Beaumont Street. From its window you can see the striking classical frontage of the Ashmolean Museum. With both Hopkins and Winger, as well as director Attenborough, staying at the Randolph during the Oxford shoot, what higher recommendation could you ask?

Shadowlands film location: Hastings Street, Camden, London NW1
Shadowlands film location: CS Lewis and Joy Gresham get married: Hastings Street, Camden, London NW1

Oxford Railway Station has been completely modernised since the film’s setting of the 1950s, so the railway scenes used Britain’s only perfectly preserved mainline steam facility, the Great Central Railway, at Loughborough Central Station, Leicestershire. The railway was also used for scenes in Buster (the film about Great Train robber ‘Buster’ Edwards), Enigma, Control, The Hours and Cemetery Junction.

Lewis and Gresham marry in Camden Town Hall, on Judd Street at Euston Road, but the door from which the couple emerges into the rain is the rear entrance of the BT Office, a block south in Hastings Street opposite Thanet Street.

With Joy’s illness in remission, the couple attends the May Day Morning festivities at Magdalen College. This is a real tradition, which is still celebrated with the choristers of the College choir singing Hymnus Eucharisticus from the Great Tower. Leaping into the river from Magdalen Bridge seems to be something of an anachronism, as this only really took off in the Eighties – though after numerous injuries, it’s now banned.

If you want to enjoy a couple of hours of music, general merrymaking – and Morris dancing – you’ll need to be on Oxford’s High Street beneath Magdalen Tower at 6am on May the first.

On the way to find the ‘Golden Valley’ Lewis and Gresham stay at the Pengethley Manor Hotel, now Brooks Country House, Pengethley Park, off the A49, four miles north of Ross-on-Wye.

The black-and-white half-timbered exterior seen in the film, though, is that of Mere Hall, a private home at Woolmere Green, east of Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire. Just south of Salt Way, the B4090 (and not visible from the road), this is no folly. It’s a Grade I listed building, built in the 16th Century and owned, until recently, by the Bearcroft family for over 600 years.

The real ‘Golden Valley’ is set in the rolling hills of Herefordshire at the Welsh border, but the real thing turned out to be just not photogenic enough for the big screen. The view seen in the film is about 15 miles to the southeast. It’s Symonds Yat Rock overlooking the River Wye near Goodrich, between Ross-on-Wye and Monmouth.