Puzzlingly, Provence proper has attracted few English-language productions (unlike the Côte d'Azur, which has often been a magnet for Hollywood). Here, however, are four American films, plus one from Britain, in which Provence plays a key role.
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Like it or (as most critics did) loathe it, this sun-dappled romantic comedy is the quintessential Hollywood-Provence fantasy. Based on Peter Mayle's 2004 novel of the same name and his best-selling Year in Provence trilogy of memoirs about renovating a farmhouse in the Luberon, it stars Russell Crowe as a cynical workaholic investment broker who travels to France to sell his uncle's vineyard and is swiftly, inevitably intoxicated by the good life. Neither Crowe, nor the director, Ridley Scott, is renowned for his light comic touch, but all provençal stereotypes are present and correct for your nostalgic delectation. A Good Year was filmed on location in Mayle's stamping grounds in the Vaucluse, including Lacoste, Gordes and Bonnieux, where the Château la Canorgue stands in for the estate that Crowe inherits. Find A Good Year on Amazon
Alexandre Dumas père's supremely thrilling yarn has yielded many fine television series and movies, the most recent of which stars James Caviezel as Edmond Dantès, the lowborn adventurer betrayed by a friend and incarcerated in the impregnable Château d'If - his spectacular escape inspires today an annual swimming race, the Monte Cristo Challenge. Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) directs and the cast includes Guy Pearce as the villain and Richard Harris as Dantès' ally, the Abbé Faria. Forget, though, about trying to spot the famous locations: Ireland and Malta stand in here for the Château d'If and Marseille. If you do visit the real Château d'If, a display in one of the cells allows you to watch clips of some of the earlier versions, starring everyone from Robert Donat, Jean Marais and Louis Jourdan to Gérard Depardieu and Richard Chamberlain. Find The Count Of Monte Cristo on Amazon
Marseille's image as a hotbed of organised crime was cemented for decades by this film. In it Popeye Doyle, Gene Hackman's hard-bitten New York cop, travels to the city in pursuit of the French drugs dealer who had eluded him in the first French Connection film - and ends up with much, much more than he bargained for. The thing everyone remembers is the long central section when Hackman gets hooked on heroin by his adversary, then goes cold turkey. But the director, John Frankenheimer, lived in France (where he studied Cordon Bleu cookery), spoke French and sharply nails a city that he clearly knew intimately. And Doyle's comic bewilderment in his new environment also set a template for countless fish-out-of-water police movies. Find French Connection II on Amazon
The British screenwriter Richard Curtis' maiden film as director is often regarded as the ultimate London rom-com but in fact one of its multiple plot strands unravels in Marseille (the great actress Jeanne Moreau is seen briefly waiting for a taxi at Marseille Airport), even if the city is as stylised and romanticised in the film as London itself. Colin Firth plays a writer who has been dumped by his girlfriend and finds comfort at his house in Provence with his Portuguese housekeeper, played by the Lisbon actress Lucia Moniz. Firth doggedly pursues his new love through Marseille's Old Town and finally pops the question in the (heavily disguised) Bar de la Marine on the Old Port. Find Love Actually on Amazon
The Statement (2003)
Whatever this film's faults, Michael Caine delivers a lacerating and affecting performance as a sleazy former Nazi collaborator on the run in the South of France. Shot in the heartland of the Front National, the political thriller is based on Brian Moore's novel, itself drawn from numerous controversial real-life cases, from Paul Touvier to Klaus Barbie and Maurice Papon. Caine's character has a breakdown in the Accoules Church in Marseille's Old Town and other scenes are shot on the place des Prêcheurs in Aix en Provence. Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam and Charlotte Rampling co-star, Norman Jewison directs and Ronald Hardwood (The Pianist) wrote the screenplay. Find The Statement on Amazon
Strange but true: Laurel and Hardy also made a movie in Marseille. Shot in 1951, it was the famous duo's final film and an international production with several titles: Utopia (US), Robinson Crusoeland (UK) and Atoll K (France).
In it, Stan Laurel surprisingly inherits a luxury yacht and a small island in the Pacific. He and Hardy travel together to Marseille before setting sail for the atoll. In this image from the film you can clearly see the city's cathedral, Sainte Marie Majeure, in the top left-hand corner.