From Sleepless in Seattle to Notting Hill, there’s a long tradition of romantic comedies referencing the locations they are set in in their titles. The latest is Autumn in Wales, a Malaysian film starring Eyka Farhana, Jaa Suzuran, Keith Foo and Wanna Ali and currently streaming on Astro First and Astro Go in Malaysia.
The film, directed by Rahila Ali, follows pampered Aira (Eyka Farhana) deciding to surprise her suave fiancé, Darwish (Keith Foo) by travelling from Malaysia to Wales, United Kingdom after he suddenly breaks off their engagement.
On arriving in Wales, Aira finds Darwish smitten with the sophisticated Marissa (Wanna Ali). Aira subsequently teams up with the quirky Jaka (Jaa Suzuran), working in a local café, to find out why Darwish has dumped her, seemingly falling in love with him in the process. The Philipino café owner, Mickey Bosstos, played by Amirul Haswendy who also wrote the script, adds another comic twist.
In typical rom com style nothing runs smoothly or as Suzuran puts it, “everything goes wrong”. The plot unfolds against a backdrop of bucolic riversides, stone walled cottages, colourful seaside houses and ruined castles.
Writer Amirul Haswendy told me over email, “The idea of setting the film in Wales came from the director, Rahila Ali, who used to study in the UK and fell in love with certain parts of it especially Wales. She likes to travel and the places that we shot in Wales were some of the places she’d been to.”
Ali previously filmed two movies in Wales one of which, Aku Bukan Gila, (meaning I’m Not Crazy) was also written by Haswendy. It was set and shot in Llandudno, a seaside resort in North Wales, most recently made famous for the goats overrunning the town during the pandemic lockdown.
For Autumn in Wales Haswendy says, “[Ali] asked me to write a rom com so we sat down and shared some ideas. We went to Wales for a recce and found so many beautiful places for the movie.”
These beautiful places include Aberaeron and Aberystwyth on the coast of Mid Wales and Beddgelert in North Wales. The latter is a picture perfect village of stone buildings with a river (in actuality the confluence of two) running through it, crossed by a double arched, stone bridge.
Much of the drama takes place in this small village in Snowdonia National Park where Jaka works as a waiter at a café, the real life Caffi Colwyn with its pretty riverside tea garden.
Legend has it that the name of the village, which means Gelert’s Grave, derives from a faithful hound, Gelert, that belonged to Prince Llewelyn the Great in the thirteenth century. There is even a “grave” for the dog which even though most probably mythical is a pretty spot, reached along a riverside path. The village also has a “Rupert Bear Garden” in honour of the cartoon ursine as the illustrator who created him, Alfred Bestall, lived here.
There are a number of guesthouses and B&Bs in the village and nearby is Llyn Gwynant campsite. Based beside a lake and a river, the campsite is at the foot of mount Snowdon (Yr Wddfa in Welsh) – you can climb the mountain, the highest in Wales, directly from there. This serene setting was a location for Tomb Raider 2, starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, transformed into a Chinese village (with the help of some CGI).
It was not the first time the area was been depicted as China by the film industry. Back in 1958, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring Ingrid Bergman was partly filmed in the environs near Beddgelert. Bergman played the real life Gladys Aylward, a missionary and an inn keeper in Yangcheng, China. When the second world war breaks out Aylward volunteers to lead a group of a 100 orphans to safety across the mountains, helped by Chinese officer, Lin Nan.
A little further south in the county of Cardigan are Aberaeron and Aberystwyth. Both are on the Wales Coast Path, a scenic 870 mile (1,400 km) walking trail running the entire coastline of Wales. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Path, one of a few continuous walking routes along a country’s coastline in the world. For the energetic, the distance between Aberaeron and Aberystwyth is 18 miles with some of the terrain designated “moderate to hard”.
Cardigan Bay, which Aberaeron and Aberystwyth overlook, is one of only two spots in Britain that have a resident bottle nose dolphin population. The dolphins may be spotted all year round with peak viewing opportunities from June to October.
The fishing village Aberaeron is a cinematography dream of brightly coloured cottages and Regency houses based around a small harbour. It’s here that Wanni Ali says she filmed her favourite scene (no spoilers) on the harbour bridge. The largest of the houses is the Harbourmaster boutique hotel, painted a vivid blue. Inside, the interiors combine traditional coastal wainscotting with contemporary furniture and Welsh textiles and the inviting restaurant serves locally sourced food.
Up the coast the larger Aberystwyth, known locally as Aber, is a university town – glimpses of the Old College can be seen in the film. In another movie link, the town is where Taron Egerton star of Kingsman and Rocketman was brought up. The British actor’s earliest performances were at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, a thriving theatre, concert hall and gallery space which also houses cafes, bars and shops.
Aber’s sweeping promenade flanked by pastel painted Victorian town houses, many of which are now guest houses, feature in the film. During autumn and winter the spectacular sight of starling murmurations can be seen over the pier. Thousands of the birds gather at dusk, flying in a remarkable shape-shifting mass.
Close by, and also in the movie, are the ruins of Aberystwyth Castle, dating back to the thirteenth century. Originally commissioned by King Edward 1st, it switched hands between the English and Welsh many times over the centuries as war between the two raged and fell into disrepair in the early 1400s after peace was brokered.
Aberystwyth is also home to the Michelin Guides’ UK Opening of the Year 2022 – a restaurant named SY23 (the town’s post code). The Guide notes that chef Nathan Davies and his team have “created a fun, lively spot in this quaint Welsh seaside town.”
The tasting menu revolves around charcoal grill cooking and locally sourced produce that’s “foraged, farmed or fished from the sea shore to the rolling mountains”. The restaurant is based just off Great Darkgate, a shopping street where many of the Autumn in Wales scenes were filmed.
Producer Dato’ Normashayu Puteh says she hopes the movie will give viewers “respite from their daily stresses.” Puteh adds, “The enchanting cinematography showcases the beauty of Wales that is rarely captured in local Malaysian films. We believe that this film will be able to inject audiences with a sense of wanderlust and the thrill of travelling overseas during this ‘new normal’”.