New supernatural drama A Discovery of Witches tells a truly international story, flitting from the colleges of Oxford and the canals of Venice to rural Finland, the Scottish Highlands and an opulent castle in France – but in reality, the shoot wasn’t nearly so globetrotting.
While the production team did do some location shoots (the split was 60% on location, 40% in the studio) an awful lot was filmed either in the newly christened Bad Wolf studios in Cardiff or the nearby area, and so a lot of creative fudging was used to make the scale of the series so impressive.
But where were the scenes actually filmed? Which foreign countries did they really travel to, and which did they just fake in Newport? Read on to find out…
Of course, A Discovery of Witches did really film among the Dreaming Spires of Oxford – that distinctive architecture is hard to fake – with real-world locations used including the Bodleian library, New College, Brown’s Café in the Oxford Covered Market, the White Horse pub (where Matthew and other vampires enjoy a drink) and the college boathouses.
However, a lot of the interiors for these locations were constructed as sets inside Bad Wolf Studios, including the Duke Humfrey’s Library section of the Bodleian where so much of the series’ action takes place (despite its appearance in many shots, Diana doesn’t work inside the distinctive Radcliffe camera building).
While A Discovery of Witches did receive permission to film inside the Bodleian, the restrictions – including limited crew members, restricted filming time and the complete veto of any practical effects – made it too difficult for them to shoot all the scenes they needed. Instead, they spent eight weeks building their own version of the Duke Humphrey’s library and other parts of the Bodleian, which they could mess around with to their heart’s content.
And apparently, it was even enough to impress celebrated author Philip Pullman, whose own His Dark Materials novels (which heavily feature Oxford) were soon to be adapted in the same studios…
“Actually, Philip Pullman visited when we had the Bodleian set up and he just said, ‘OK, that’s perfect,’” executive producer Jane Tranter said.
However, the set won’t actually be reused, as doing so would be prohibitively expensive.
“To dismantle the set really carefully floorboard by floorboard, and then put it back, is actually as expensive as just recycling and repurposing the wood for something else and then building it from scratch,” Tranter explained.
“So we are using parts of it, we are great recyclers, but we have not kept the whole set because you can’t.”
Later in the series, troubled witch Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) is taken by charming vampire Matthew (Matthew Goode) to his family pile, a castle called Sept-Tours in the historical French province of Auvergne.
As with the Bodleian, the interiors for this building were constructed in Bad Wolf’s South Wales, while exterior filming took place aborad – but at Monselice Castle in Italy, not anywhere in France.
Quite a lot of action in the series takes place in Venice, which is where several characters – mainly vampires – live and where the witches, daemons and bloodsuckers of the Congregation meet to keep order between their species.
And this time the production did actually film in Venice, spending two weeks shooting their cast on the canals and in the backstreets of the historic Italian city – though as usual, most of the interiors were filmed in a studio.
Most other foreign locations in A Discovery of Witches’ early episodes were filmed in and around South Wales, including the upstate New York home of Diana’s aunt Sarah (Alex Kingston) and her partner Emily Mather (Valarie Pettiford).
The interior of the house was built in the Bad Wolf studios over the course of nine weeks and dressed with real baby pictures of star Teresa Palmer, while exterior shots were filmed at a field around the corner.
Scenes set in the highlands of Scotland (where Matthew hunts and kills a stag) were filmed in the Brecon Beacons, while an expedition to Finland by witch Peter Knox (Owen Teale) was shot in Newport near its iconic Transporter Bridge.
In other words if in doubt, it was shot in South Wales – just like when you’re watching Doctor Who.
This article was originally published in September 2018