Jamaica Inn: Series writer Emma Frost guides us around the Cornish setting of her Gothic drama

BBC1's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s hit novel begins tonight. Radio Times explores the beautiful West Country backdrop from the series

Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Sean Harris (Harry Brown) and Matthew McNulty (The Paradise) star in the new BBC adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn (on tonight at 9pm on BBC1).


The new three-part period drama, set in Cornwall, tells the story of Mary Yellan, who finds herself embroiled in a world of smugglers, violence and sex.

Series writer Emma Frost (The White Queen, Consuming Passion) explains that it was hugely important to her that Cornwall was a proper character in the series, as it was in the book.

“Cornish locations are essential to the drama,” explains Frost, who admits they had to recreate some of the interior of Jamaica Inn in Yorkshire. However, “all the important stuff was filmed in Cornwall,” she maintains, “we filmed every single thing that needed to be filmed in Cornwall in the right places and you see it on the screen…

“We went to extraordinary lengths to film as much as we possibly could in Cornwall. We even had a dialogue coach to make sure all the actors had the Cornish accent.”

Frost reveals seven must-visit places that helped shape the drama…

Roughtor, Bodmin Moor

“It’s a gigantic tor and they are really deceptive,” explains Frost, “when you look at them you think ‘they’re not that big and they’re not that far away.’ They do this really weird optical illusion. You just keep walking and walking and walking to them and they seem to get further away and bigger the closer you get,” says the writer. “Roughtor features in the novel itself. Mary Yellan is at the top with the ultimate baddie. When I was researching and writing the script I actually went and stayed in a yurt on Bodmin Moor for three days and it pissed down with rain. I climbed Roughtor right to the top and properly did what Mary would have done and looked at the vegetation and granite rock. What was so wonderful is that we actually did film right at the top of Roughtor. The end of the final sequence was filmed right here, you can see for miles and miles around.”

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The Cheesewring and Hurlers, Bodmin Moor

“The hurlers are kind of like tombstones,” says Frost. “They are as tall as a man and you can hide behind them. The Cheesewrings sort of look like a pile of stone bagels and we filmed at these various different locations, and what’s amazing about Bodmin Moor is that you move half a mile in any direction and the colours change completely. It looks like there are 10 different locations all in the confines of Bodmin Moor, one minute you’re at the tor and the next minute you’re in this scrubby heather, the next minute it’s thick grass. Bodmin Moor is extraordinary. You can see for miles and watch the clouds go across the sun and you get these big purple patches of shadow on the land as they move across. It’s glorious – it makes you feel like this tiny, tiny unimportant speck.”

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Holywell Bay, Newquay

“All the smuggling scenes were filmed here on the beach, in the sea and in the caves around Newquay,” explains Frost. “We filmed in inhospitable weather and the cast had to be weighted down so they didn’t get swept away. Every single person had an individual lifeguard – it was a really tough shoot. It was bitterly bitterly cold, and the cast were in the sea all week long. After that, they had to spend two weeks climbing to the top of Roughtor every single day, before we could even turn the cameras over. Some of them used wetsuits [under their costumes], I know Sean Harris didn’t; he’s a method [actor] and wanted to feel what it would have felt like, he got very cold.”

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Trevoole Farm, Praze-An-Beeble

“At the beginning of the story, Mary has a beautiful 18th century farm with her mother, and then she loses it. There’s a change from this rural idyll to Bodmin Moor,” says Frost. “In my head, I based that beautiful farm on Trevoole Farm. It’s open to the public a couple of days a week and it has a fantastic vintage tea room, so I sat in this vintage tea room and wrote the first episode, looking out onto this gorgeous 18th century farm house, imagining that this is the farm she lost to go off to Jamaica Inn; it really helps having a sense of history and a sense of place around you as you are writing. It’s got lots of old fashioned flowers and things that would have been there in the 18th century, so it’s very evocative.”

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Altarnun Church, Altarnun

“Also known as the Cathedral of the Moors, Altarnun Church is really important to the book,” Frost recalls. “We didn’t film in it, for logistical reasons, but the old Altarnun Church was very important to Daphne du Maurier. It’s got these ancient wooden carvings at the end of the pews, with sheep, animals and biblical themes. It was her meeting with the vicar of Altarnun that inspired the book to start with. I went to the church and saw all these carvings, which feed into the book as well.”

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“This is where Daphne du Maurier’s son, Kits Browning, still lives in this beautiful house called Ferryside, which was where Daphne lived for a while as well,” explains Frost. “It has all these beautiful portraits of her all over the house. I went to see Kits right at the beginning of my journey, because I wanted to know what his mum felt about the book, what he felt about the book, and what was important. Kits has been so supportive of the entire project, he absolutely loves what we’ve made and he’s really loved the script the whole way through. He was very vocal about the fact that there have been several attempts to adapt [Jamaica Inn] over the past several decades and that he has hated every single script, because people have tried to mess with it too much. They even gave me a little Daphne du Maurier watch. Her grandson Ned Browning has a company making gorgeous Swiss watches, which say du Maurier across the face and have her signature on the back. You can see their house on the water in Fowey, a very iconic site on the du Maurier trail.”

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Jamaica Inn, Bodmin

“The story goes that Daphne du Maurier was out riding with a friend on Bodmin Moor when mist came down, they got horribly lost and the ponies took them to Jamaica Inn, which was this little old coaching inn in the middle of nowhere,” says Frost. “She met the vicar of Altarnun there, who told her stories about smuggling, which is what gave her the idea for the novel. Jamaica Inn itself has to be [visited], but we didn’t film there. We found a disused farm. There’s a massive great motorway in front of [the real Jamaica Inn, which still exists in Bodmin] and a big car park next to it, so we couldn’t film there. However, the series set designers went and took their inspiration from the building and recreated it as it would have looked in 1820, with a little bit of artistic licence. The farm we converted into our Jamaica Inn just looks stunning; it’s one of the most phenomenal sets I’ve ever seen.”


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