Game of Thrones, the worldwide blockbuster based on the fantasy dynastic sagas by George R.R. Martin, has set a new standard for television drama, both in terms of production values and storytelling ambition. And the series has also inadvertently brought its location, Northern Ireland, into the spotlight - for good reason.
While a fair chunk of the three series to date have been filmed inside the Paint Hall, the cavernous bowels of the old Harland and Wolff shipyard (from which the Titanic was launched), there has been plenty of location shooting too. From Tollymore Forest Park in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains to Castle Ward on the shores of Strangford Lough, viewers have been given a tantalising glimpse of some of the area's incredible scenery.
If you’re in Belfast this summer, then get ready for HBO’s touring exhibition of Game of Thrones, which is coming to town from 8–17 June. Hosted by Titanic Belfast, the attraction features costumes and props from the productions. See King Joffrey’s crossbow, daggers and swords such as “Ice” and “Longclaw”, helmets, shields, suits of armour, crowns and jewellery. The Backwater Bay Interactive Experience will also transport visitors into the midst of the action of the great battle from season two.
There's no doubt that film and TV production has experienced a mini-boom in Northern Ireland over the past few years. Wonderful locations, a highly skilled workforce and the possibility of funding assistance from the Northern Ireland Screen have yielded hit after hit. Check out this little selection for just a taste of the scenery this corner of the globe has to offer.
Good Vibrations (2012)
This warm and funny biopic of punk godfather Terri Hooley, who championed bands such as the Undertones, features a host of Belfast locations. Unfortunately, the record shop from which the film takes its name finally closed down in 2011.
Odd Man Out (1947)
The inky frames of this film noir directed by Carol Reed capture another side of Belfast. The film’s antihero, played by James Mason, trawls an odyssey through the city’s underbelly before, inevitably, he comes to a bad end. It’s packed with memorable scenes, but it is a shame the actors didn’t manage better Northern Irish accents.
Christopher and His Kind (2011)
Belfast stands in for Berlin in this BBC-commissioned feature starring Matt Smith (aka Doctor Who) about Christopher Isherwood’s rackety life in the 1930s. There was a political outcry during filming as swastika banners were hung from the city’s most prominent buildings. In the end it was agreed that scenes including the banners could only be filmed very early in the morning or at night.
Philomena (due for release in 2014)
The Mourne Mountains, Carlingford Lough and the village of Rostrevor in County Down form the gorgeous backdrop for Stephen Frears’ heart-rending new film. Judi Dench stars in this fact-based story of a woman who goes in search of the son she was forced to put up for adoption 50
Mickybo and Me (2004)
Adapted from Owen McCafferty's successful stage play, Mickybo and Me follows the story of two young boys who, inspired by seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the cinema, steal a gun and escape 1970s Belfast on a quest to reach the Australian outback. Various locations were used for the film, including Belfast and the little town of Donaghadee on the Ards Peninsula, County Down.
Jamaica Inn (currently in production)
If the film-makers have done their job well, you won’t notice that the BBC’s new adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's classic novel uses Belfast locations to stand in for Cornwall. All being well, this sumptuous three-part costume drama should be hitting your screens some time next year.
Closing the Ring (2007)
This old-school Second World War romance flits between scenes shot in County Antrim and Canada. In what may prove to be his final feature, Richard Attenborough directs a stellar cast that includes Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Mischa Barton and Neve Campbell.
The Shore (2011)
This 30-minute piece won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film, and it’s not difficult to see why. There’s the wonderful setting of Killough, County Down, great acting (notably from Ciaran Hinds) and a comical yet poignant story of two friends reunited after 25 years.
Killing Bono (2011)
Set in the 1980s, two brothers – and wannabe rock stars – look on aghast as their own efforts pale next to those of their old schoolfriends, who become superband U2. Largely filmed in Belfast, the story is based on the 2003 memoir, Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelgänger, by Neil McCormick. Neil and his brother Ivan were given cameos in the film: they can be seen early on watching a gig in an empty bar.