The City and University of Oxford in Film and Television

Magdalen CollegeOxford has long been a popular setting for fiction.
It appears in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, thinly disguised as ‘Christminster’. It’s famously central to Brideshead Revisited. It’s a particularly popular location for detective novels: Colin Dexter’s Morse, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Veronica Stallwood’s Kate Ivory have all sleuthed here.
From this literary heritage, Oxford has since become one of the UK’s top locations for film and TV. Oxford residents and students seldom see a week go by without encountering a film crew and actors in period dress somewhere around the city; the famous use of Christ Church’s Hall in the Harry Potter movies is just the tip of the iceberg.
The best bit is, our 16-18 Film Academy course allows you to follow in these mighty footsteps and shoot your own film on location in Oxford. Click here to view some of the short films produced by students in previous years.
Here’s our guide to some of the best film and TV that has been set in Oxford.

Harry Potter

Image shows the Great Hall at Hogwarts decorated for Christmas.Film still from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (C. Columbus, 2001).

Although the Harry Potter series was filmed in a variety of locations in and around Oxford, including New College and the Divinity School (which was used for the Hogwarts infirmary), it’s the stunning use of Christ Church’s vast Hall as the Hogwarts Great Hall that is best remembered.

The Golden Compass

Image shows Lyra and Roger walking along Oxford rooftops in The Golden Compass.Film still from The Golden Compass (C. Weitz, 2007).

The Golden Compass, based on Northern Lights, the first novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Oxford graduate Philip Pullman, is set partly in a fantastical, otherworldly version of Oxford (our ‘real’ Oxford doesn’t show up until the sequel, The Subtle Knife, which has yet to be filmed). The fictional Jordan College, where the heroine, Lyra, was brought up, was modelled on Exeter College and many scenes were filmed there.

Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis and Endeavour

Image shows Kevin Whately and Lawrence Fox as Inspector Lewis and DS Hathaway in the TV series Lewis.Image copyright ITV.

No discussion of film and TV in Oxford is complete without a mention of the city’s most famous detectives. Born from Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, ITV have now made three hugely successful series set in Oxford – the original Inspector Morse series, the sequel Lewis featuring Morse’s sidekick, and Endeavour, which is about Morse as a young man. Virtually every location in Oxford crops up in one of the three at some point, including several ORA centres.

Brideshead Revisited

Image shows Charles and Sebastian cycling through Oxford in Brideshead Revisited (2008).Film still from Brideshead Revisited (J. Jarrold, 2008).

At the heart of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited are the halcyon days that its hero, Charles Ryder, spends with his friend Sebastian Flyte at the University of Oxford. The novel has been filmed twice, in a much-lauded 1981 mini-series and in a 2008 film, and both feature Oxford extensively.

The History Boys

Image shows Dakin in Corpus Christi, Oxford, in The History Boys. Film still from The History Boys (N. Hytner, 2006).

The History Boys, first a play by Alan Bennett (another Oxford graduate) and then a film in 2006, concerns a group of grammar school boys in the early 80s, sitting entrance exams to study History at Oxford and Cambridge. One of the highlights of the film is when the boys go to their interviews, which are all filmed on location in the relevant Oxford and Cambridge colleges.

An Education

Image shows a still from An Education, with two characters waiting by a car.Film still from An Education (L. Scherfig, 2009).

The 2009 film An Education tells the story of Jenny Mellor, played perfectly by Carey Mulligan, a 16-year-old schoolgirl in 1961 on track to get accepted by Oxford University until she begins a whirlwind romance with an older businessman that sends her plans significantly off course. The film recreates the atmosphere of Oxford in the 60s perfectly.
If you want to try your hand at being a filmmaker in Oxford next summer, book our Film Academy course now ➙
Image credits: bannerHarry Potter; the Golden Compass; Lewis; Brideshead Revisited; An Education.