Filming Trinity: A guide to the college’s features on screen

Heather Croghan discusses Trinity’s TV and film cameos ranging from features in historical biopics to Bollywood backgrounds

Over the years, there have been a number of films shot on Trinity’s campus. Whether it’s an integral part of the production or merely features as part of a shot, as Front Arch did in Liz Gill’s 2003 film Goldfish Memory, the beautiful campus is instantly recognisable. It is featured fleetingly in John Guillermin’s direction of The Blue Max, where the library is utilized as an architectural imitation of wartime Berlin. Neil Jordan’s vampire film Byzantium also showcases this space, with characters conducting supernatural research in the Old Library. In addition to an assortment of films, several TV shows have filmed scenes on Trinity’s campus. One of the more adaptable aspects of the college grounds is the mix of historic buildings with those of more modern construction, lending the impression of the college as an aesthetically versatile space applicable in several different locations a useful feature in filmmaking.

“It is a fiercely familiar scene when we see…Benny walk across the cobblestones of the front entranceway to meet her date.”

With regard to films specifically based at Trinity, the adaptation of Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends is one of the more iconic examples. The piece follows Benny, played by Minnie Driver, who goes to a university in Dublin never explicitly named in the film. The lecture scenes showcase the Museum Building and Front Square, both of which are easily recognisable in several shots throughout the film. It is a fiercely familiar scene when we see Benny and her friend, Nan, enter the Museum Building to start their orientation day or when Benny walks across the cobblestones of the front entranceway to meet her date. Shortly thereafter, the 1996 film Michael Collins, starring Liam Neeson as the eponymous lead, encapsulates the Irish struggle for independence. Several scenes from this film were shot in the Postgraduate Reading Room as a stand-in for the National University where the Treaty debates took place.

The classic drama Educating Rita, starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine throughout their characters’ struggle to overcome prejudices, was shot in a number of locations around campus. Walters plays a Liverpudlian hairdresser bored with the monotony of her life and decides to attend university only to fall under the tutelage of a jaded professor portrayed by Caine. The film became a huge commercial success and was later nominated for three Academy Awards. Caine later revealed that playing a professor in Trinity College has been his proudest role to date, and that “stepping through that arch at the front of Trinity, standing on those cobbles, breathing in all that academia and Irish history, surrounded by portraits of Douglas Hyde and Isaac Butt, it sort of enveloped me in this very unmistakably inspiring way.” This film made use of the more historic side of Trinity, with the Exam Hall functioning as an archetypical academic location. In addition to the utilization of several classrooms, the campus has functioned as a sort of haven within the city for Rita, represented by blurred shots of the surrounding city through arches and doorways of the campus.

One of the more elaborate uses of Trinity’s campus can be found in the 2012 Bollywood success Ek Tha Tiger (Once There Was a Tiger). On this occasion, Front Square was used as the setting for an extravagant dance sequence involving 50 people as well as the Rubrics just beyond the Campanile. It is a sequence with a combination of music and dance which lights up the campus in a spectacular manner.

“The popular crime drama Ripper Street also took advantage of the historic nature of Trinity’s campus.”

The appearance of the celebrated campus is more fleeting in television than on the silver screen; nonetheless, it makes some notable appearances in small screen productions. Several scenes are filmed here in Russell Lewis’ show The Ambassador, which depicts Harriet Smith as the new British ambassador to Ireland and her relationship with her son Nate who attends Trinity after her husband and father-in-law’s death. Nate is depicted as living on campus and the two are also filmed strolling across campus by the museum building and rose garden. The popular crime drama Ripper Street also took advantage of the historic nature of Trinity’s campus, and, in a swift genre change, an episode of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles chose Trinity to serve as a location for one of its episodes.

Most recently, the adaptation of the successful novel Normal People by Trinity graduate Sally Rooney, directed by another Trinity alumni, Lenny Abrahamson, was filmed on campus in the middle of August this year. The filming locations included Front Square, the Arts Building, and the Berkeley library. This second novel by the Irish writer has been adapted into what will be a 12-part series aired on the BBC, sometime in 2020. This highly anticipated series is somewhat unique, as it was not only filmed on campus, but the entire story is based around life at Trinity College as well as the complications and intimacies of college relationships.

It is unsurprising that Trinity’s filmography credits are so extensive due to the institution’s remarkable history and picturesque nature. Oftentimes the scenes are strikingly recognisable and iconic, though other cases reveal the campus simply functions as a classic example of academic life. Given the college’s popularity, the frequency of its film cameos doesn’t appear to be letting up; thus, for anyone who might be in need, requests for filming at Trinity College Dublin should be directed to the Communications office. All in all, if there is anything to say of Trinity’s extensive history in film, a float around campus every now and then could result in the debut of a budding extras career.