East Lothian’s stunning islands and coastline attract the cream of Hollywood

East Lothian’s rural scenery, golden beaches and historic buildings, combined with its ease of access for production crews, have made it a popular film location choice in recent years. Ranging from the grandeur of Gosford House, as seen in Outlander and The Awakening, to Fenton Tower, playing the role of Archie’s Castle in children’s hit Balamory, to Seacliff Beach, the backdrop to Mary Queen of Scots, footage of East Lothian has been seen again and again around the world by millions of people.

The county’s stunning scenery has played starring roles in film and TV productions, starring alongside the likes of Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Gillian Anderson, Peter Mullan and Colin Firth.

In the past decade, the county welcomed Hollywood royalty, Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, to North Berwick, in 2012 for the film adaptation of Eric Lomax's bestselling autobiography, The Railway Man, which shares his experiences as a Prisoner of War during the second world war and his struggle to deal with the trauma. Press and locals alike could be seen gathering outside a house in North Berwick on Tantallon Terrace on a number of occasions to catch a glimpse of the stars.

In July 2015, it was all very hush-hush when the BFG planted his big feet in East Lothian briefly when he crossed the motorway on the way to Giants’ Land. The A1 between Haddington and Gladsmuir was closed overnight for the filming, which involved cars and lorries from the 1980s being brought in to be driven along the road to set the scene for the giant’s journey in the screen the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s famous children’s novel. The scene shows the BFG stepping over the road as the sun rises, with the twinkling lights of a city in the background. 

The BFG was one of 33 productions filmed in East Lothian during 2015, including Outlander, Tommy’s Honour andThe Secret Agent, which together have been an important influence in attracting people to the region. Visit Britain research shows that 40 per cent of visitors are attracted to locations they have seen on the screen.

The epic drama television series Outlander, based upon author Diana Gabaldon's historical time travel book series of the same name, have been seen filming in East Lothian on a number of occasions. Locations for season one included one of Scotland's oldest, working grain mills at Preston Mill in the village of East Linton, which stands in as the mill at Lallybroch.

The historic mill underwent urgent repairs after the mechanism which allowed its water wheel to turn broke last winter. The 18th Century watermill was one of the region’s last working grain mills, having been used commercially until 1959. The National Trust for Scotland launched an appeal to raise money to restore the water wheel. Within two weeks, £12,000 had been donated by people from around the world. Sam Heughan, who plays the lead role of Jamie Fraser in the TV series, was among those thanking everyone for their support. As well as being an iconic sightseeing spot for Outlander fans, if offers visitors a chance to experience how historic watermills work.

Season two brought Outlander back to the region with some of the Versailles scenes filmed at the stunning, Robert Adam-designed stately home Gosford House. It also doubled as the stable building at the Palace of Versailles. Gosford House, an imposing neo-classical mansion constructed for the seventh Earl of Wemyss, also featured in The Awakening, a 2011 British supernatural drama film directed and co-written by Nick Murphy.

Tommy’s Honour, directed by Jason Connery, son of James Bond actor Sir Sean Connery, featured Peter Mullan and Jack Lowden as the founding father and son of golf in this fascinating film. Based on the acclaimed book, Tommy's Honour is the story of golfing pioneer Tom Morris and his relationship with son Tommy. Scottish acting great Sean Connery's love for the sport has clearly rubbed off on his director offspring. Peter Mullan starred as Tom with Jack Lowden playing his son while Sam Neil rounded off the cast. The film crew spent over a month filming on ‘Scotland’s Golf Coast’, East Lothian, including time spent at both Musselburgh & Winterfield golf courses.

Private Seacliff Beach, just past the ruins of medieval Tantallon Castle, has always been a favourite for film makers. It is best known for a true Famous Five adventure, with its curious cave and Britain’s smallest harbour, a pirate’s dream carved into a great hunk of red sandstone. It became home to Brigitte Bardot and Laurent Terzieff during the filming of Two weeks in September back in 1966. Bardot, a French model and actress who graced the cover of Elle magazine as a teen, featured in this story of a woman torn between her love for two different men. Nearby North Berwick, otherwise known as the ‘Biarritz of the North’, appropriately suited this crew perfectly.

More recently in 2017, director David Mackenzie returned to Scotland for his follow up to the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water with Netflix’s Outlaw King starring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce. Mackenzie reunited with Pine for this David v Goliath story of the War for Scottish Independence. Aaron Taylor-Johnson played Bruce’s right hand man, James Douglas, as they plotted to defeat the much larger oppressing English army. Once again Seacliff Beach saw some of the action with horseback riders appearing on the beach.

Later that same month, Saoirse Ronan graced our shores at Seacliff when she starred in Mary Queen of Scots as the film's titular character. The film follows Mary’s attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England, played by Margot Robbie, which eventually condemned her to imprisonment before facing execution. David Tennant, Jack Lowden, Martin Compston and Guy Pearce were just a few names from an impressive supporting cast that also visited the area.

All of these cast and crews have brought huge economic value to the area, firstly they themselves enjoying our local accommodation and restaurants, all before the release of their blockbuster films. Our miles of stunning coastline, iconic historical buildings and views will hopefully continue to inspire and attract the great directors, particularly at a time when big names in the industry are aiming to attract more major film and TV productions to Scotland with a potential studio space created here to capitalise on its talent.

And here at Renaissance, a mere short walk from the Villas and less than a mile off shore, Fidra Island, with its eponymous lighthouse, is rumoured to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous adventure novel and many film plots, Treasure Island, a tale of "buccaneers and buried gold”. So if you see any pirates, unexplained treasure maps, schooners, the Black Spot or a one-legged seamen bearing parrots on their shoulders, don’t forget to find out what is going on as it could be actors heading for the big time, or even Hollywood….

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