It is no coincidence that recent blockbuster depicting the Welsh legend of King Arthur was filmed partly in Snowdonia. Hilary Paschal shines the movie spotlight on North Wales.
The stunning mountain landscapes of Snowdonia took centre stage once again in 2017, this time as the backdrop to Guy Ritchie’s long-awaited fantasy epic King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
Starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role the film is Ritchie’s take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne.
Jude Law plays Arthur’s uncle Vortigern, who seizes the crown when Arthur’s father is murdered. Robbed of his birthright, young Arthur has to fight his way up from the back alleys until – pulling the sword from the stone – he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy.
Acclaimed movie director Ritchie also chose Snowdonia to shoot scenes for his previous blockbuster, Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows, and it’s easy to see why North Wales draws generation after generation of film-maker back to the region.
James Bond fans will recognise scenes from the national park in From Russia with Love and The World is Not Enough.
Tomb Raider, Willow and even Carry On Up the Khyber are also among the hundreds of movies and documentaries filmed in the area over the years.
“King Arthur’s location manager asked for our advice on some of the most stunning locations for filming,” commented Arwyn Williams of Wales Screen, the Welsh Government body which supports film-makers. “We have the grandeur of the mountains, beautiful beaches, stunning countryside and all within the radius of a few miles.”
Wales Screen also organises recces to help producers choose the right location, and it has a database of contacts within local government, agencies and other organisations such as the National Trust to help make the process of gaining permissions easier.
“My personal favourite location is Nant Gwynant,” says Arwyn. “The view you get of the valley once you drive past Pen y Pass towards Pen y Gwryd is truly beautiful and spectacular.”
Scenes from King Arthur: Legend of the Sword were filmed in Nant Gwynant, as well as Vivian Quarry near Llanberis and Capel Curig – which provided something of a boost for local businesses.
“The economic impact can be really significant when a production films in the area,” added Arwyn. “A crew can range in size from 100 on a small production to 400 plus on a large feature film. Obviously this is a huge benefit to local hotels, as well as a range of other local businesses, from caterers to taxi companies.”
For example, Angelina Jolie stayed at Seiont Manor Hotel, in Llanrug, Caernarfon in 2002 with her adopted son Maddox while filming Lara Croft Tomb Raider: the Cradle of Life.
Seiont Manor Hotel operations manager, Jonathan Evans, was a waiter at the hotel during that time. “Angelina was a very pleasant person and wrote individual thank you notes for staff when she left,” he said. “A lot of hotels in the area provided accommodation for the cast and crew.”
The Welsh Government provides funding support to attract productions to the region and ensure that a certain amount of the production budget is spent in Wales.
“This can run into millions of pounds and means Welsh freelance crew, special effects firms and set designers, among others, get the opportunity to work on large scale, big budget productions that will be screened worldwide,” continues Arwyn.
“The use of stunning Welsh locations in TV and film productions are also a great boost to our tourism industry, highlighting what North Wales has to offer. The number of enquiries from TV and film production companies has increased significantly in recent years. We now deal with hundreds of enquiries a year ranging from brand launches to TV advertisements to blockbusters.”
Meanwhile, Helen Pritchard, owner of Clic Agency based in North Wales, welcomes the chance to showcase Welsh creative talent.
“I have supplied dozens of actors for various films shot in North Wales over the years,” she says. “We used some pupils from Ysgol Friars pupils in Bangor for the production of King Arthur. I think they find the whole experience overwhelming. They got paid to work on a feature film with some of their heroes.
“I have worked with film makers and producers from all over the world, from Japan to the States – and they are all captivated by our scenery,” Helen adds. “I remember filming a music video with Greek singer Demis Roussos on Anglesey and his team couldn’t believe how beautiful the area was.”
Travel guide Lonely Planet named North Wales fourth in a list of best regions in the world to visit in 2017, and the view from the top of Snowdonia was named UK’s best sight in a poll by Samsung.
Tom Hall, Lonely Planet’s editorial director, said: “We included North Wales in 2017’s list of top 10 regions because it deserves to be recognised on the global stage. North Wales is a gem and should be on every traveller’s radar.”
It has certainly caught the lens of movie makers worldwide. As Arwyn concludes: “I think our breathtaking scenery will continue to be an inspiration to film-makers for many generations.”