Often overlooked (misguidedly) by international visitors in favour of cities and countryside in England, Wales has its own distinctive personality. You’re never far from a rugged coastline or unspoiled beach, the cities (and people) are lively and friendly and Wales’ unique mix of Celtic and British culture (including their tongue-twisting language) means it has the best of both worlds. If you’ve never thought about visiting Wales before, here are some of the best films set in Wales that will inspire you to visit and book a trip!
Most of the films are set in the mountains or Welsh Valleys, based in former mining communities near Cardiff and Swansea in Wales’ deep south. Some take place in these coastal cities, hopefully spotlighting just how thriving their arts and nightlife scenes are.
What you won’t find too much of in movies set in Wales are stories about uppity, wealthy people. Welsh-based films concentrate on the plight of everyday people. And they just so happen to live in one of the most luscious green countries on earth! This is my selection of the best films set in Wales that will make you want to visit…
Top Films set in Wales
1. How Green Was My Valley (1941) dir. John Ford
Languages: English, Welsh Run time: 118m 91% Rotten Tomatoes
One of the most seminal classic Hollywood films set in Wales, How Green Was My Valley covers two main Welsh settings: the valleys and mining communities. And did you know it beat Citizen Kane (1941) for the Academy Award for Best Picture? Now, I’m not saying How Green Was My Valley is better than Citizen Kane (I’m also not not saying that…) but I would want to watch that movie. And it’s one of Clint Eastwood’s favourite films, apparently.
How Green Was My Valley follows the Morgan family living somewhere in the South Wales Valleys in the late 1800s/early 1900s. They’re a coal-mining family with six sons riding on the hope that the youngest son, Huw, will have better prospects. The film deals with the break down of the mining way of life, mining strikes and hardships of these working-class communities.
Though plans were made to shoot in Wales, obviously WWII was raging by 1941. So instead, the studio built a huge multi-acre replica of a Welsh village somewhere near Malibu. Which explains why the sun is beaming throughout the entire film! Do not expect such glorious Welsh weather in real life.
2. Tiger Bay (1959) dir. J. Lee Thompson
Language: English Run time: 103m 71% Rotten Tomatoes
Kitchen sink realism, the British New Wave movement… Whatever name you want to give the gritty, social issue dramas of the late 1950s/1960s, Wales was in on the action, too! And one of the best Welsh films from this era was Tiger Bay. Named after a district in capital city Cardiff, Tiger Bay concentrates on the burgeoning friendship between a Polish merchant marine and the young girl who witnessed him killing his wife.
Tiger Bay does two really important things that were uncommon in films before the 1960s. Firstly, the film displays a multi-cultural Cardiff with families of different races and religions living in the same neighbourhoods. Secondly, that sometimes things aren’t always black and white and when good people do bad things they are often a victim of circumstance. It’s a timely Cardiff-set film and was shot in Newport, Cardiff and Tal-y-Bont which is a village in the North Wales countryside.
3. Under Milk Wood (1972) dir. Andrew Sinclair
Language: English Run time: 87m 60% Rotten Tomatoes
One of Wales’ famous sons is the poet, Dylan Thomas. No one would argue with me there. The folk singer Bob Dylan named himself after the wordsmith, and Thomas’ poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night has been overused and paraphrased to death in Hollywood films. Dylan Thomas wrote the Under Milk Wood radio play in the 1950s and this film adaptation stars couple of the moment, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
The film is a ‘Day in the Life’ of the residents of a Welsh fishing village named ‘Llareggub’ (read it backwards). Though not a masterpiece, Under Milk Wood has gained a bit of a cult following. The production primarily shot in Lower Town, Fishguard, though residents of Laugharne thought the film should have been shot there. Apparently, Laugharne is where Thomas wrote the radio play. But since the town in Under Milk Wood is fictional, I don’t think they have much to get their knickers in a twist over.
4. On the Black Hill (1987) dir. Andrew Grieve
Language: English Run time: 117m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
This is a slightly obscure entry on my list of films set in Wales, but since the original novel it’s based on was called ‘unfilmable’ and the result is amazing, I had to include it. On the Black Hill spans 80 years documenting the lives of twin brothers living at the end of the 19th century on a farm in Wales. Together, they survive feuds, land disputes, wars and affairs of the heart.
It’s a beautiful movie that is ultimately about family and living a contented, simple life despite turmoil and hardship. On the Black Hill is set and shot, unsurprisingly, in Wales’ heartland in the Black Mountains of Powys. So, just a great film set in a stunning location that you should absolutely track down if you can!
5. Hedd Wyn (1992) dir. Paul Turner
Language: Welsh Run time: 123m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
I had to include at least one Welsh language film set in Wales and I couldn’t pick one better than Hedd Wyn. It was the first Welsh movie to be nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars and is based on the life of a Welsh-language poet.
It’s 1913 and Ellis Humphrey Evans is a writer living in North Wales whilst WWI ramps up around him. He is loathed to fight with the British Army since they have an English superiority complex and represent the Welsh erasure and prejudice felt by the English that he cannot tolerate.
The film is set in the small Welsh village of Trawsfynydd in Northwest Wales by the coast, but I’m not 100% sure where in Wales filming took place. Regardless, Hedd Wyn is a captivating tragic romance film that succeeds in celebrating Welsh culture in its many forms.
6. The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain (1995) dir. Christopher Monger
Language: English Run time: 99m 58% Rotten Tomatoes
This film only wins prizes for the most obscenely long film title and for nabbing Hugh Grant in the starring role. Since The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain was released in 1995, this was peak Heartthrob Hugh era. And like most of his 90s films, The Englishman is a harmless comedy-drama with some romantic elements and is very pretty to look at. I’m talking about the Welsh scenery here, by the way. Definitely not Hugh.
Hugh Grant plays an English cartographer sent to Ffynnon Garw (a fictional place) to measure a nearby mountain in the late 1910s. The local community is outraged when their only mountain falls slightly short of the required height to constitute being a mountain and is, in fact, only a hill. In an attempt to build their self-esteem the locals decide to build a mound on top of the hill so it can be re-classified.
So yes, the title isn’t some complex, clever metaphor. Instead, it needlessly over describes the main plot of The Englishman, but it is quirky and we like quirky around here. The film is based on a real-life occurrence in the village of Taff’s Well and the hill/mountain in question is Garth’s Hill. The Englishman shot scenes in Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant and Llansilin in Powys as Taff’s Well was far too urbanised and modern by 1995!
7. Twin Town (1997) dir. Kevin Allen
Languages: English, Welsh Run time: 99m 46% Rotten Tomatoes
Almost all of the films set in Wales so far have been set in villages in the Welsh countryside and focus on small farming and mining communities. It’s about time we watched a film set in a Welsh city! Twin Town isn’t the most cinematic or critically-acclaimed Welsh film. But it’s very entertaining, features two prominent Welsh cities (hence the title) and reflects life (for some) in the 1990s.
Brothers Julien and Jeremy are joyriding, drug-taking wastrels who decide to capitalise on their father’s workplace accident by demanding compensation, despite it being a cash-in-hand job. They begin a feud with a local shady businessman, Bryn Cartwright, that leads to a series of avoidable, unfortunate events. Twin Town was Rhys Ifans first feature film and he’s one of the most successful Welsh actors working today. And his brother in the film is his real-life brother. Twin Town shot in Port Talbot and Swansea, with the poignant closing scene filmed at Mumbles Pier.
8. Human Traffic (1999) dir. Justin Kerrigan
Language: English Run time: 99m 59% Rotten Tomatoes
Human Traffic is to Wales what Trainspotting (1996) is to Scotland. Granted, Trainspotting is now a huge, international success as opposed to a mere ‘cult indie film’ which is what Human Traffic arguably is. And Trainspotting is also just a better film, sorry not sorry. But if you’re travelling to Wales, there’s a lot to love about this film.
Taking place over one mad-cap, hazy weekend, Human Traffic follows a group of friends in their early 20s who are slaves to the grind Monday-Friday and devotees of the Cardiff club scene at the weekend. And also the drug scene, dance scene and whatever other scenes were big in the 1990s. It’s an essential film in the ‘Chemical Generation’ and the ‘Cool Cymru’ era where there were so many young filmmakers, musicians and artists doing awesomely creative things in Wales. Human Traffic shot entirely in the Welsh capital including pubs and clubs like Gassy’s and The Philharmonic which are still there 20 years later!
9. Solomon & Gaenor (1999) dir. Paul Morrison
Languages: Welsh, English, Yiddish Run time: 105m 70% Rotten Tomatoes
Like a Welsh Romeo and Juliet, Solomon is an Orthodox Jewish man who falls in love with Gaenor, a Christian woman unaware that her new lover is Jewish. They live in the Southwest Valleys in 1911, where antisemitism was rife in small communities at this time. Amazingly, they shot the film firstly in English then re-shot the whole film again in Welsh, with Yiddish appearing in both versions. The Welsh language version was nominated in the Best Foreign Language category at the Academy Awards that year.
Solomon & Gaenor is a beautiful romantic drama and should only be consumed by those who don’t mind being a blubbering mess by the end of the 105-minute run time. The film shot on location in picturesque areas of the South Wales countryside like Ogmore Vale and Clydach Vale in Rhondda Cynon Taff.
10. A Way of Life (2004) dir. Amma Asante
Language: English Run time: 93m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Not exactly wanderlust-inspiring, but Amma Asante is a fantastic up-and-coming British female director and I had to include one of her films set in Wales. Her feature film debut, no less! A Way of Life offers a glimpse into an overlooked side of Wales, the working-class and the impoverished. I don’t like purely recommending films about rich people or dreamy period dramas. Though I’m the first to admit I’m a sucker for a good period-set heartstring-tugger!
A Way of Life centres around Leigh-Anne, a 17-year-old mother who has already witnessed more tragedy and hardship in her short life than some see in 80 years. Struggling to get by, she willingly commits crimes and makes one too many enemies in order to keep her child from going into care.
Yeah, it’s not a happy film. Do not watch A Way of Life thinking you’re going to be persuaded to visit a deprived area of Cardiff (where the film was shot) on your holidays. There are probably better films that will make you want to visit Wales, to be honest. But I like to add variety to these lists!
11. Submarine (2010) dir. Richard Ayoade
Language: English Run time: 97m 88% Rotten Tomatoes
Possibly my favourite out of all the films set in Wales on this list! Starring so many amazing British actors, directed by Richard Ayoade who hasn’t made nearly enough films for my liking and it’s a cute coming of age story set in Swansea. There’s nothing to hate about Submarine.
Welsh actor Craig Roberts plays 15-year-old Oliver Tate, a precocious (some would say nerdy) teenager grappling with everyday, teenage problems. He fumbles his way through his first relationship and makes several misguided attempts to stop his parents’ marriage from falling apart. It’s an adorable, slightly stylised indie and a must-watch film that will inspire you to visit Wales. Though Submarine is set in Swansea, the filming locations are scattered all over South Wales including Cardiff, Barry and Swansea too.
12. Patagonia (2010) dir. Marc Evans
Languages: Welsh, Spanish, English Run time: 119m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Though the majority of Patagonia isn’t set in Wales, the film is based on such a fascinating slice of Welsh history and is also a very wanderlust-inspiring movie in its own right. So, I just had to include it on this list.
A bit of background: In the late 1800s/early 1900s, Argentina encouraged Europeans to populate the countryside around Buenos Aires. Around 55 Welsh citizens decided to sail across the Atlantic and founded a settlement named Y Wladfa. Today, there are around 55,000 people living in the town with 10% speaking Patagonia Welsh. Isn’t that just so cool?!
Patagonia follows a couple from Cardiff who has become frustrated with their relationship and fertility struggles. When one of them is commissioned to photograph Welsh churches in Argentina, the two use the trip as a chance to rekindle their relationship. It’s a bit of an obscure film and might be difficult to find, but well worth the effort. Especially for keen travellers who like visiting offbeat places.
13. One Chance (2013) dir. David Frankel
Language: English Run time: 103m 63% Rotten Tomatoes
We Brits do love an underdog tale. Some of us also like watching the TV talent show Britain’s Got Talent too, for reasons that personally escape me. Paul Potts, a shy amateur opera singer living in Port Talbot, won the show in 2007. One Chance is the name of his debut album and also this biographical film documenting his rise from shop assistant to musical sensation.
As much as James Corden mildly irks me with his existence, it’s a pleasant enough film. And anyone who watches One Chance is sure to get exactly what they expect: a feelgood comedy-drama about chasing your dreams despite the odds. Most of the film is set and shot in Port Talbot with a little jaunt to Venice, too!
14. Pride (2014) dir. Matthew Warchus
Language: English Run time: 120m 91% Rotten Tomatoes
If One Chance is an underdog tale, Pride is a tale of two entire demographic groups of underdogs uniting to fight one common enemy: the British Government. And a based on a true story, too!
When gay rights activist Mark Ashton realises the police have turned down the heat on the gay community due to the Miner’s Strike, he spontaneously collects donations for them at a Gay Pride Parade in London. Ashton receives enough support to start an alliance named ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’. Which is how a group of LGBT London youths end up visiting Onllwyn, a mining community near Port Talbot in Wales, finding allies in the most unlikely of places.
It’s a wonderfully joyous film about overcoming obstacles and prejudice for a common good. You should watch it even if you don’t plan on visiting Wales. Most of Pride shot in and around London but the Wales filming locations are incredibly authentic as they actually filmed in Onllwyn in Powys. The real-life town the LSGM alliance gave money to! Carreg Cennen Castle in the Brecon Beacons National Park also makes an appearance in Pride.
15. Just Jim (2015) dir. Craig Roberts
Language: English Run time: 84m 85% Rotten Tomatoes
Submarine‘s Welsh leading actor Craig Roberts steps behind the camera for his directorial debut Just Jim. Which is incredible because he would have been just 24-years-old and he also stars! Desperate to make friends and shirk off his loneliness, Jim jumps on an opportunity to become more popular by making a deal with his new American next-door neighbour, played by Emile Hirsch.
It’s a quirky, funny British indie and I’d love to see Craig Roberts make more films. He decided to shoot the film in his hometown of Maesycwmmer in the Rhymney Valley not too far from Cardiff.
Roberts’ motivations behind shooting a film in his hometown stemmed from his view that there are too few films set in Wales. Which is so true! Just looking at population, Wales has just over 3 million residents and Scotland has about 5.5 million. Yet I managed to create substantial blog posts listing recommendations of independent films set in Glasgow, films set in Edinburgh and films set in the rest of Scotland. We should be spoilt for choice when it comes to films set in Wales but it’s slim pickings.
16. Apostle (2018) dir. Gareth Evans
Language: English Run time: 129m 80% Rotten Tomatoes
This is one Welsh film you won’t have to try too hard to find as Apostle is a Netflix original movie! Set in 1905 on a remote Welsh island, Thomas Richardson travels to the island to reunite with his sister but is instead captured by a bloody religious cult, hellbent on ceaselessly contributing sacrifices to keep the land fertile.
Not exactly travel inspiring? Does ‘scary cult’ not scream ‘holiday vibes’? Perhaps not, but if you already have Netflix it will take such little effort to throw this on in the background or for a thrilling movie night while you scroll through your phone. Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey fame) and Michael Sheen are fantastic as ever in Apostle and the film shot near Cardiff and Port Talbot. So it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re planning a trip to Wales. Just concentrate on the pretty Welsh scenery instead of the action, if gore and thrillers aren’t your thing!
Other films set in Wales: The Old Dark House (1932), The Proud Valley/The Tunnel (1940), The Halfway House (1944), The Corn is Green (1945), Blue Scar (1949), Only Two Can Play (1962), Coming Up Roses (1986), August (1996), The Edge of Love (2008), Hunky Dory (2012), Prevenge (2016), Gwen (2018)
And those are some of the best films set in Wales to inspire you to book a trip! Have you watched any of these films or would you add any to the list? Let me know in the comments below!