Where is BBC’s King Lear filmed?

Everything you need to know about the locations of the Shakespeare adaptation starring Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and Emily Watson

King Lear cast BBC, TL

You may know the characters and dialogue of BBC’s King Lear well, but there’s something else about Richard Eyre’s Shakespeare adaptation some could be familiar with: the filming locations.

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From prominent London landmarks to an iconic castle, the drama’s A-List cast – which includes the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Emily Watson, Jim Broadbent and Andrew Scott ­ – can be seen alongside some recognisable settings during the two-hour special, airing Monday 28th May at 9.30pm on BBC2.

So where exactly did filming take place? Here’s everything you need to know…

Where is King Lear set?

Like the tragedy written by William Shakespeare, most of the action takes place around England.

However, the BBC has changed when the drama is set – while the original play was based in an ancient mythical version of Britain, Eyre’s adaptation takes place in the modern day.

Where was King Lear filmed?

In a lot of cases, by the most famous buildings possible. For instance, the real Tower of London doubled for King Lear’s (Anthony Hopkins) royal boardroom and chambers.

And the house belonging to the Earl of Gloucester (Jim Broadbent)? Filming for the location took place at Hertfordshire’s Hatfield House, a 15th-century manor 21-miles north of London. Like its setting in King Lear, the real-life house has connections to the royal family: it was built by Robert Cecil, chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. And although Hatfield House is currently home to Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury, and his family, the site is open to the public.

Duke of Cornwall (Tobias Menzies), Oswald (Christopher Eccleston), Goneril (Emma Thompson), King Lear (Sir Anthony Hopkins), Regan (Emily Watson) BBC, TL
Duke of Cornwall (Tobias Menzies), Oswald (Christopher Eccleston), Goneril (Emma Thompson), King Lear (Sir Anthony Hopkins), Regan (Emily Watson) BBC, TL

10 points if you recognised the setting for Lear’s military base: these scenes were filmed at Dover Castle, a fortress by the English Channel. Parts of the camp were also filmed at Samphire Hoe Country Park – a site created from the earth dug up for the channel tunnel – two miles west of the coastal town.

Interestingly, Samphire Hoe may have acquired its name from King Lear. When describing a clifftop scene to the blind Gloucester in the original play, Edgar says “the crows and choughs that hang the midway air show scarce as small as beetles” and “halfway down hangs one that gathers samphire”.

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Other key scenes – the ones set in a wasteland – were filmed far away from Dover in Buckinghamshire’s Pitstone Quarry. Based by town Tring, the site is largely closed to the public, but that hasn’t stopped people sneaking in to bathe in the quarry in the past (we’re not sure why, either).