5 famous books, films and TV programs set in Oxford

Few cities can boast as powerful a literary reputation as Oxford. With famed authors such as Iris Murdoch, J.R.R Tolkien, and Kenneth Grahame all having lived in the city it is little wonder that dozens of books have been set in Oxford, or thinly veiled versions of it. And of course where there are books there are bound to follow TV adaptations and films. Thanks to Oxford’s wonderful beauty it’s also a natural location to film in, and many films not explicitly based in Oxford have also been filmed on location in and around the city.

Next time you’re in Oxford have a hunt around and see if you can pick out landmarks and areas mentioned in these famous books, films and TV programs set in Oxford.

1. Inspector Morse


Image courtesy of Danni Naeil

For a lot of the British population Inspector Morse is what springs to mind when they think of Oxford. The incredibly successful series of books by Colin Dexter were set in Oxford, and the long-running TV series was filmed on location here. It’s possible to go on a guided walk of the city which takes in various locations from the books and TV show.

2. Shadowlands

This biographical film studies the life of Oxford don and author C.S. Lewis and his relationship with American writer Joy Gresham. With a typically powerhouse performance by Anthony Hopkins as Lewis it’s a riveting film directed by Richard Attenborough. The film is set in Oxford and the University’s buildings feature heavily in the film.

3. His Dark Materialshisdarkmaterials

Image courtesy of Kelly Garbato

Philip Pullman’s international best-selling trilogy of fantasy novels is partly set in an alternate world version of Oxford. It shouldn’t be a surprise as Pullman was an undergraduate at Exeter College (also home to J.R.R. Tolkien). As the heroine Lyra Belacqua journeys through parallel worlds she often returns to Oxford with its dreaming spires where she was brought up in the cloistered walls of Jordan College.

4. Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh attended Oxford after winning a scholarship to attend Hertford College. This book is one of his most famous and has been adapted for radio, TV and cinema over the years. The book’s narrator is, unsurprisingly, a student at Hertford College and during the course sufferers numerous personal problems as he interacts with a local aristocratic family. With its intense focus on English nobility and Roman Catholicism it’s a perfect introduction to Waugh’s work, and one he considered for a time to be his magnum opus.

5. The Children Of Men

Although the hit film starring Clive Owen was located in and around London, the original book by Oxford’s P.D. James was set in Oxford, and main character Theo is an Oxford don. A ground-breaking book that studies the unravelling of society as humanity stares extinction in the face, it rattles around Oxford and its environs at a breakneck pace as the cast of characters attempt to protect the first child born in nearly twenty years.

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  1. What a great idea! It is such fun trying to match actual locations with locations that are mentioned in novels. Brideshead and Inspector Morse for Oxford are such great choices for this! Have you by any chance read Black Chalk by Christopher J Yates? It’s a novel published recently that is part set in Oxford (NYC is the other location) and really captures student life amidst a degenerative game that heads into the abyss. Stunning for capturing that ‘student feel’ of the city.