A NEW multi-million-pound movie with a star-studded cast - including an actress from Witney -  is being filmed in Oxford.

Actors and crew have been shooting scenes in Catte Street and in the Bodleian Library’s Clarendon Quadrangle for the film Belle.

In the period drama’s title role is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from Witney, who stars alongside an impressive line-up of some of Britain’s best-known actors, including Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson and Penelope Wilton, who is in the hit ITV show Downton Abbey.

The movie is directed by BAFTA-award winner Amma Asante and produced by Damian Jones, whose previous films include The Iron Lady, about the life of Britain’s first woman Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

As well as being shot in Oxford, Belle is being filmed at Pinewood Studios, and the Isle of Man.

It tells the story of a mixed-race girl raised as an aristocrat in 18th century England.

The movie’s plot involves a controversial slavery case, and focuses on the love story of Dido Belle and John Davinier, played by Sam Reid.

Mr Jones said: “This is an important story which still has great resonance today.

“Amma has created a powerful tale inspired by true historical events and adds a fresh and unique twist to this Jane Austen-esque romance.”

Hundreds of people watched the filming in Catte Street, including Joan Smith, 78, from Chippenham in Wiltshire.

She said: “I stopped to have a look when I saw all the stagecoaches parked at the side of the road.

“I really love period dramas and I’m really looking forward to seeing this at the cinema or on DVD.”

Tim Lockley, 22, who works in publishing in Oxford, said: “I’ve never really seen a film set before so I wanted to stop and see a few takes.”

Location manager Adam Richards said Catte Street was being used to represent London street scenes in the movie.

He added: “We came to Oxford because of its honey-coloured stone buildings – they are historically correct for the period – and we will film again on Sunday in Merton Street.

“People going past have been fascinated by what is going on.

“Oxford is a very film-friendly city and we have brought 150 crew and 80 extras, together with the leading actors.

“They have all been staying in hotels in the area so that’s obviously good for business.

“The film has a budget of about £7m which is not bad for a British feature film.”

There is no precise release date for Belle to be screened in British cinemas but it is due out in 2013.


FILMING in Oxford has been dominated for many years by the creations of Oxford novelist Colin Dexter.

Episodes of Inspector Morse, featuring John Thaw and Kevin Whately, have been followed by series of Lewis, starring Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox.
And in January Shaun Evans played a young Morse in a pilot episode for a series called Endeavour.

Oxford has also been used as a backdrop for Harry Potter films, The Oxford Murders in 2007, and a movie version of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.