Films Set in Edinburgh

black-29986_640As a city that already looks like something out of a fairytale, it’s no wonder that Edinburgh has been the setting for a number of well-known films over the years.

From the majestic 12th-Century Castle to the hidden cobblestone closes, living in Edinburgh can very quickly feel like living on the pages of a Dickens’ novel. The city’s past residents – both famously revered and infamously feared – also add to its cinematic character. A truly captivating city, it’s easy to see why screenwriters and film directors choose Edinburgh as the backdrop for their stories.

In honour of the upcoming Edinburgh International Film Festival (check out our preview of EIFF 2013), we thought it’d be fun to take a look at some of the most notable films set in Edinburgh.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1969

Featuring the Best-Actress-winning performance of a young (and ginger!) Maggie Smith, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was a Broadway play turned film about the teacher of a girls’ school in Edinburgh, Jean Brodie. In addition to taking four students under her wing, the title character also takes the viewing audience on an emotional ride in what is quite an elaborate, compelling tale of love, loss and politics – both high and personal.

Chariots of Fire, 1986

Perhaps the most highly acclaimed film to feature the Edinburgh skyline, Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire has gone down in history as one of the greatest films in the history of British filmmaking. The film is based on the true story of two athletes – one a Christian and one a Jew – who participate in the 1924 Olympics. In the film, the dinner scene between characters Harold and Sybil was filmed in the Cafe Royal Oyster Bar, which you can check out during your stay.

Trainspotting, 1996

The film that truly placed director Danny Boyle onto the big stage, Trainspotting brilliantly juxtaposes Edinburgh’s famous culture and heritage against the city’s grittier side, as seen during the 1980s. The story, based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, follows a group of heroin addicts and their struggle to escape the drug’s powerful influence. It features early performances of notable Scottish actors Ewan McGregor and Kelly MacDonald, both of whom have gone on to have successful film careers. Gripping, moving and at times quite humorous, Trainspotting has been hailed as one of the top British films of all time.

The Illusionist, 2010

While this animated film by French director Sylvain Chormet has managed to remain under the radar of mainstream global audiences, it was highly revered by critics and was even up for Best Animated Feature Film at the 83rd Academy Awards (it lost to Toy Story 3). It tells to story of a struggling magician and a young girl who believes his illusions to be real. The story takes both characters to Edinburgh, where famous landmarks like Jenner’s department store, Princes Street and Arthur’s Seat all appear as beautiful, animated backdrops.

Burke and Hare, 2010

A black comedy based on the true lives of two infamous Edinburgh residents, Burke and Hare tells the tale of how William Burke and William Hare went into business delivering corpses for money. The film stars Simon Pegg as Burke, Andy Serkis as Hare and Isla Fisher as aspiring actress Ginny Hawkins. While the film wasn’t a major hit with critics, it’s an entertaining glimpse into one of the most scandalous stories from Edinburgh’s darker past.


Of course, the best way to see Edinburgh isn’t through a camera lens, but through your very own eyes. Plan your visit with VieAmhor and we’ll help you experience Edinburgh like a local and make you fall in love with this city we call home. If you have any questions about planning a visit, self-catering accommodation in Edinburgh, or want tips on what to do and see while you’re here, please call, email or find us on Facebook. We’d love to chat!

Written by Margaret Kay

Originally hailing from Seattle, Margaret has called Edinburgh home for just over four years. A freelance writer, she spends her time hopping from coffee shop to coffee shop – enjoying every angle of this stunning city along the way.