Several weeks ago, researchers announced the discovery of a prehistoric site on the Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge that appears to mirror the structure of the henge.
They’re guessing it was a wooden henge that mirrored the original in its layout and orientation, similar to Woodhenge and Bluestonehenge, both stone circles found within two miles of the original.
Most excitingly, this discovery came within the first two weeks of the researchers’ three-year landscape survey using new imaging technology, so there’s no telling what other new finds lay on the horizon.
To keep us going in the meantime, I’ve put together a list of the best cameos of Stonehenge in films and television programs.
5. King Lear
To start us off, here’s a little preview of our next film post!
Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is drawn from the myth of Leir of Britain, a pre-Roman Celtic ruler. Most productions of the tragedy costume the players in Elizabethan garb, but Laurence Olivier’s 1987 production for the BBC takes the story back to its source.
A great deal of the action takes place in and around the Stonehenge monument, not just to place the story in its correct prehistoric setting, but to provide a stable center for the story’s swirling points of chaos: the assumed savagery of life on the misty heath, the king’s life amongst battles and political intrigues, and Lear’s mind as he eventually descends into madness.
4. Doctor Who, “The Pandorica Opens”
The penultimate episode of the latest episode of Doctor Who, starring Matt Smith (11th Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) and Alex Kingston (River Song) has a lot of Stonehenge action. (Spoilers to follow, so skip ahead if you haven’t seen it yet.)
Doctor Who has often drawn upon various elements of English history and culture to inform its stories, and “The Pandorica Opens” is no exception. In this episode, the monument is surrounded by Roman legionnaires, though it conceals something far older and with deeper implications for the Doctor and his friends.
3. “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, 2008
Like Lear, Tess Durbeyfield is a tragic figure. At the conclusion of the Thomas Hardy novel, she and Angel, finally reunited, flee through the misty countryside and come upon Stonehenge. Exhausted by her flight and her trials, Tess rests on a sacrificial alter stone, a victim of the will of the gods or her fatal flaw, neatly tying together the novel’s themes of modern development vs. mankind’s close relationship with the earth, and contemporary religious belief vs. nature-worshipping paganism.
“I don’t want to go any further, Angel,” she said, stretching out her hand for his. “Can’t we bide here?”
“I fear not. This spot is visible for miles by day, although it does not seem so now.”
“One of my mother’s people was a shepherd hereabouts, now I think of it. And you used to say at Talbothays that I was a heathen. So now I am at home.”
2. National Lampoon’s European Vacation
The National Lampoon series of films is the American equivalent of the British “Carry On” movies — colorful, goofy, cheeky slapstick comedies. In European Vacation, the Griswold family stumbles awkwardly around England, France, Germany and Italy, causing chaos and insulting the natives at every turn.
Their visit to England includes a day-long trip around a roundabout and several near-death encounters with Eric Idle, hapless bicyclist. Idle is, of course, unfailingly polite, despite having been run over by a car:
“It’s just a flesh wound, honestly.”
Their visit to Stonehenge goes as well as one might imagine, given the above. Clark Griswold delivers a thoughtful speech about the significance of the venerable rocks and their importance for future generations, before…well, see for yourself.
1. This Is Spinal Tap
Perhaps the only movie on this list to pay an appropriately epic tribute to the monument, at least in theory, This Is Spinal Tap is a biting, hysterical mockumentary about a fictional British rock/metal band, consisting of four of the least self-aware humans to walk this planet.
The Spinal Tap Stonehenge moment is supposedly based on a Black Sabbath stage set that was built to scale, ending up too large to fit inside the building. The scene speaks for itself. Enjoy:
Stonehenge has, naturally, appeared in many films. Here’s a notable few that didn’t quite make the cut for the Top 5…
Night of the Demon: You know that line in the opening of Rocky Horror Picture Show that goes, “Dana Andrews said prunes/Give me the runes”? That’s a reference to this 1957 horror flick. Half Wicker Man, half hard-boiled detective story, this film is one of the more innovative creepy creature features of the era.
Shanghai Knights: A buddy cop flick set in Victorian England with a steampunk twist. Stonehenge has a cameo role here when the two main characters crash a car into it, exclaiming, “Who the hell would put a pile of stones in the middle of a field?”
Stonehenge Apocalypse: A made-for-TV movie about all the mysterious ancient monuments of the world…coming to life? Fighting aliens? Not exactly sure on this one.