Lights, Camera, Trinity!

Deputy Life Editor Megan Thompson explores the history of Trinity’s relations with the film industry in light of the recent filming of Mel Gibson’s The Professor and the Madman on campus



“It seems that the benefits of Trinity’s internationally positive reputation are not confined to the field of academics”

Last month saw Trinity College buzzing with excitement as Mel Gibson began his three days of filming on campus for his upcoming movie, The Professor and the Madman. This big-screen adaptation stars Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer, Mystic River actor Sean Penn and Love/Hate actor Kieran O’Reilly. It tells the tale of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, with Gibson portraying author Professor James Murray, and Penn playing mental asylum inmate William Chester Minor, who helped  Professor Murray to pen the dictionary.

The official synopsis states: “A professor begins work compiling words for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the mid-19th century and receives over 10,000 entries from a doctor at an insane asylum.” The film is scheduled for worldwide release next year. The film crew was on campus from November 24 to November 26, creating their sets in the Dining Hall and the Old Library during this time.

The Professor and the Madman is only one in a long list of diverse titles that have used Trinity as a set over the years. The first ever was Shake Hands with the Devil, filmed in 1959, and from there stems a long lists of acclaimed title such as Michael Collins, The First Great Train Robbery, and the screen adaptation of Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends.

Some films sought to make use of the old-fashioned architectural layout of Front Square, which can be seen in the likes of Ek Tha Tiger, The First Great Train Robbery and Circle of Friends. In Byzantium, the Old Library was used, and in the film Educating Rita, which starred Julie Walters and Michael Caine, filming took place both outdoors on campus and in locations such as the Exam Hall and the Graduates Memorial Building.

It was even argued that one particularly notable location within Trinity, the Long Room, was replicated in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, with the room used as the Jedi Archives appearing almost identical to Trinity’s prized library.

Trinity’s extensive history as a set doesn’t stop with the silver screen. It has also been used for small screen productions, from the recent Inside Trinity documentary to episodes of Ripper Street, Penny Dreadful, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Rebellion and Jeremy Iron’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

In the case of these TV shows, the main grounds served as the primary location of filming. This filming shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, with a commercial  filmed on December 3 that made use of New Square and the Rugby Pitch.

It’s no surprise that Trinity is targeted as a prime filming location, with such stunning scenery as the cherry blossom trees, the cobblestones of Front Square, the antique design of the buildings and the astonishing view of the Old Library. But is there another reason why directors have chosen Trinity College as their set?

On his visit to Trinity College in 2012, Bollywood film director Kabir Khan, who filmed Ek Tha Tiger on campus, stated: “The university’s strong international reputation for teaching and research, along with the unique and vibrant student experience on offer to students, were some of the reasons for using Trinity as a backdrop as it added a vibrancy to the film”.

It seems that the benefits of Trinity’s internationally positive reputation are not confined to the field of academics. It’s difficult to deny that Trinity has played host to some commendable pieces in the cinematic and television canon, with Educating Rita winning Best Film at the 37th British Academy Film Awards, Ek Tha Tiger winning Best Film at the People’s Choice Awards India 2012, and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles nabbing six Emmy Awards.

For those interested in using Trinity as a location for their film, a detailed written proposal must be sent to the Public Affairs and Communications Office no less than two weeks in advance of filming. For more information on Trinity’s filmography, visit the Shot at Trinity website.