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Hollywood Calling!

The speeches have been written, the dresses fitted, it's time for the BAFTAs!

You may not know it, but Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding villages have many links to film and theatre.

With medieval architecture, country mansions and stunning scenery – not to mention easy access to London – Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding area are popular choices for production companies and celebrities. Read on to discover this area’s many claims to fame.  

Hollywood links

The Angel Hotel is a beloved destination for visiting celebrities and A List film stars shooting in the area.

Pierce Brosnan stayed at The Angel while filming Tomorrow Never Dies. Few people know that the scenes set in a US airbase in the South China Sea were actually filmed at RAF Lakenheath, while the high-altitude, low-opening (HALO) parachute jump was filmed at RAF Mildenhall.

Angelina Jolie also stayed at The Angel during the filming of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Scenes set inside Croft Towers – including the amazing aerial ballet shootout sequence in which Croft defends the manor—were filmed nearby at Elveden Hall.

The gothic architecture of Elveden Hall also appealed to director Stanley Kubrick. The infamous masked ball scenes in Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise, were filmed here.

The Athenaeum, a stone’s throw from The Angel, recently hosted a star of the big screen. While researching his family tree for BBC Show Who Do You Think You Are? Warwick Davis, famous for his roles in Star Wars, Willow and Harry Potter, found himself at the iconic building. Davis was amazed to discover his great-great-grandfather used to play the violin here with an opera troupe.

Bury St Edmunds was also the birthplace of a Hollywood legend. Bob Hoskins, best known for his roles in The Long Good Friday and Who Framed Roger Rabbit was born here during the Second World War, after his mother was evacuated during heavy bombings.

And if you love a bit of celeb spotting, look out for film director Matthew Vaughn (known for producing Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells and directing X-Men: First Class) and his supermodel wife Claudia Schiffer who live near Bury St Edmunds. 

On location in Lavenham and Long Melford

The wonky timber frame houses of Lavenham are a sought-after set for historical movies and fantasy dramas. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this medieval village, which made its wealth from the wool trade, was used as Godric’s Hollow.

Almost 25 years before returning to Suffolk for Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick was in Lavenham filming his 18th century drama Barry Lyndon. In the scene filmed at Lavenham’s The Guildhall, the protagonist – played by Ryan O’Neal – undergoes a leg amputation after being wounded in a duel.

Lavenham was also an ideal backdrop for the 1966 thriller, The Witchfinder General starring Vincent Price. Set during the English Civil War, the film depicts the terror caused by Matthew Hopkins, who was appointed Witchfinder General by the Puritans under Cromwell.

On a lighter note, over in Long Melford, Kentwell Hall made an ideal Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows, starring Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Steve Coogan and Anthony Sher.

Stars of the small screen

One of the most famous TV series filmed in and near Bury St Edmunds was the BBC classic, Lovejoy. Hugely popular, this drama followed the lovably roguish Lovejoy, played by Ian McShane, as he solved mysteries while hunting for valuable antiques. Lavenham regularly featured in episodes alongside Bury St Edmunds, Clare, Hadleigh and Long Melford.

Over in Newmarket, the cast of The Only Way is Essex enjoyed at day at the races. As you would expect, the TOWIE boys suited up and the girls sported attention-grabbing hats while they knocked back champagne at Newmarket Racecourse.

Unsurprisingly, the VIP area of Newmarket Racecourse is a hotspot for celebrities – and the odds of spotting local Frankie Dettori are always good!

Famous connections with the Theatre Royal

The Theatre Royal is special to many actors, and none more so than Timothy West CBE, who is the patron of the theatre’s restoration appeal. In West’s illustrious career, he has played over 200 characters on the stage and screen. His film credits include The Day of the Jackal, The Thirty Nine Steps and Iris, while his roles in TV soaps EastEnders and Coronation Street have made him a household name. West has worked in theatres across the country yet he says, “the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds holds an unrivalled place in my thoughts.”

The Regency theatre’s restoration appeal has drawn support from other stars too, including Dame Judi Dench CBE. “The Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds holds a unique place in the history of theatre in this country as well as a special place in my heart,” she said.

Stephen Fry is also enthusiastic about this treasure. “My enthusiasm for the restoration of the Theatre Royal at Bury St Edmunds knows no bounds,” he said. “It is a vital piece of our theatrical heritage.”

Charles Dickens and Norah Lofts

Even before cinemas and television, Bury St Edmunds attracted the celebrities of the day. In the 19th century, Charles Dickens always drew a crowd when he toured the country to speak or read from him books. Dickens visited Bury St Edmunds three times during his career, twice reading to a captive audience at The Athenaeum. Look out for the blue plaque outside The Angel Hotel, where Dickens stayed.

A blue plaque also marks the house where author Norah Lofts lived. The films Jassy, Guilt Is My Shadow, The Witches, and 7 Women were all based on novels by Lofts.

These days, The Apex is an amazing venue for catching well-known musicians, dancers and comedians. Here, and at the Theatre Royal, local projects also foster emerging talent so we’ve no doubt there’ll be even more luminaries linked to Bury St Edmunds in the years to come.  

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