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Essex has been used as the backdrop to some of the biggest movies: view them here

PUBLISHED: 01:16 26 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:02 20 February 2013

Essex has been used as the backdrop to some of the biggest movies: view them here

Essex has been used as the backdrop to some of the biggest movies: view them here

Although it may not be famous for its film connections, Essex has been used as the backdrop to some of the biggest movies. Alex Herron searches for Essex stardust...

Although it may not be famous for its film connections, Essex has been used as the backdrop to some of the biggest movies.Alex Herron searches for Essex stardust

One of our countys greatest assets is its diversity and down the decades the wide variety of landscapes and townscapes within Essex have caught the imagination of the worlds movie makers as they search for the perfect location.

In fact, while Essex may not be synonymous with blockbuster movies and Hollywood legends, there have been dozens of international films shot on location within the county borders. Our fabled ancient churches, imposing urban architecture and magnificent stately homes have been used as a backdrop to many famous films.

One of the British film industrys biggest hits of the 1990s was Four Weddings and a Funeral, a winsome comedy released in 1994 which was nominated for an Academy Award and became the highest grossing British film at the time. While much of the film is shot up and down the UK, one of the most memorable scenes, the funeral of Gareth, was shot at the gorgeous St Clements Church in West Thurrock.

Unfortunately this restored 12th century, Grade I listed building is no longer a functioning place of worship and in the late 1980s the nearby Procter & Gamble factory took over the maintenance and restoration of the church. Today the church is surrounded by rare plants in its churchyard, set in a wide nature reserve and open to visitors.

A short drive from St Clements Church is the town of Grays. Back inthe 1930s the State Cinema was built there on George Street. At the time it was a cutting edge venue featuring a giant Compton organ and providing enough seating for more than 2,000 people to enjoy the latest film releases.

From the outside, the cinema is a powerful, striking example of the best of 1930s architecture. The interior is equally impressive with a sweeping auditorium thats hosted many spectacles, from boxing matches to music concerts, in its time. Although this grand old building is now languishing in a state of disuse, it was immortalised at its peak in one of the 20th centurys most innovative films the Oscar and BAFTA-winning Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Released in 1988 to the acclaim of critics and the public, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was not only a huge commercial success but also ground-breaking in the way that it merged animation and live action for the first time on such an ambitious scale. Grays State Cinema will be instantly recognisable to some as the backdrop of the scene within the 1930s film auditorium. An iconic scene set in an iconic venue.

The area around Grays is obviously a hotbed for movie magic and, just to the east, Tilbury has been the setting for several scenes from Hollywoodblockbusters. Tilbury Docks has a history stretching back to 1882 when construction of the mighty deep water docks first began. As industries have grown and waned so have the functions of the docks adapted and now it serves principally as a dock for passenger liners. In earlier years the docks were an important port of call for traders travelling to and from India and the West coast of Africa.

During its history, Tilbury Docks has also been used as a film location, firstly in 1975 as the setting of John Waynes smuggler-busting operation in Brannigan. Then, in 1989, the docks acted as a Venice waterfront for Indiana Jones high-speed boat chase in the action-packed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

One of the most recent uses for these versatile docks was in the Oscar-nominated Batman Begins. The docks are recognisable in the scene where a disillusioned Bruce leaves Gotham City after having failed to shoot his parents killer and runs onto the docks where a container ship awaits.

Location finders for the modern American film, Chasing Liberty, were also drawn to Essex, this time by the stunning Hylands House in Chelmsford. The Grade II listed building set in the centre of Hylands Park doubled in the film as the US seatof power the White House. Even with just a cursory look at the property, its not difficult to see why it was chosen: white brick walls, ionic pillars at the front and a not-dissimilar aspect create a strong resemblance to the White House.

Another more recent movie that has chosen Essex for filming is Starter for 10, the award-winning comedy about loyalty, class and falling in love during the Thatcher years. The British-made film included a number of important scenes featuring Clacton Pier, the town and the sea defence rocks at the base of the pier as backdrops.

In fact, Essex can also claim to have played a part in the hugely successful Harry Potter film series. InHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the backdrop in the opening scene will be familiar to many in Essex as a section of the Dartford Crossing. Due in part to the success of the Harry Potter films, Warner Bros is now establishing a permanent UK base with plans to invest in local talent. It seems likely then, that well soon be seeing more familiar landmarks popping up in films produced on both sides of the Atlantic.

Do you know of more Essex locations used in hit movies? Then, why not let us know by writing to the editor at julian.read@archant.co.uk or write below.

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