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Tuesday December 5th 2023

Saving Private Ryan | 1998

Saving Private Ryan filming location: Balinesker Beach Beach, Wexford, Ireland
Saving Private Ryan location: the D-Day landings on Omaha Beach in ‘Normandy’: Balinesker Beach Beach, Wexford, Ireland | Photograph: wikimedia / Michal Osmenda

The locations for Saving Private Ryan can be found in England and Ireland, but only one – the military cemetery seen in the opening and closing scenes of Steven Spielberg’s affecting WWII drama – is in France. Situated on a bluff overlooking the real Omaha Beach, site of the D-Day invasion of France by allied forces on June 6th, 1944, the cemetery is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, west of the village of Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy. It honours American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II.

For the actual landings in 1944, this stretch of Normandy coast had been divided into five sectors, codenamed Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword. Omaha Beach is now a historical landmark and the surrounding area has been substantially redeveloped. The nearest match to stage the harrowing landing scenes was found on the southeast coast of the Republic of Ireland, at Balinesker Beach, Curracloe, just north of Wexford, about 70 miles south of Dublin (rail: Wexford).

Machine gun positions and the massive x-shaped metal structures (dropped to prevent just such a landing) were built here. At a cost of more than $12 million, and over 11 weeks, 1,500 people, tonnes of explosives, and thousands of gallons of fake blood transformed a kilometre of the Irish beach into the bloody battlefield.

The actual filming took 15 days, after which every trace of the set was removed, and the beach painstakingly restored to its previous state.

The ruined ‘French’ village of ‘Ramelle’, where Ryan (Matt Damon) is eventually discovered, was built at the former British Aerospace factory at Hatfield, about 20 miles north of London, in Hertfordshire. The set was reused for Spielberg’s TV series Band Of Brothers.

The airfield and aircraft factory was opened by the de Havilland company in 1930. In 1960, it was taken over by Hawker Siddeley and, in 1978, merged into British Aerospace. When BAE closed the facility in 1993, the site was developed as housing – though Hatfield's aerospace history is recorded in the names of local streets, such as Mosquito Way, Tiger Moth Way and The Runway.

The very convincing cornfields of ‘Iowa’, where tragic news is delivered to the Ryan farmhouse, were actually in Wiltshire. The farmhouse was built (and subsequently removed) on Gunsite Road, south of the village of West Kennett.

The skirmish with the German machine-gun nest, and the ambush of the half-track vehicle, were filmed on the grounds of Thame Park (which is pronounced ‘Tame’), about 15 miles east of Oxford in Oxfordshire.

The Chapel in the grounds of Thame Park was used for as the ‘French’ church in which the American soldiers rest overnight. Thame Park House itself, which is now a private home and inaccessible to the public, was featured as the palace of ‘Kew Gardens’ in The Madness Of King George.