Outlander Boston – What’s wrong and what’s right?

After a very long “Droughtlander”, the Starz series Outlander has finally made it’s return! Based on Diana Gabaldon’s book series,  Outlander Season 3 (based on Voyager, the 3rd book in the series) focuses on the twenty year separation of our two leads – Claire (Caitroina Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) – and how they tried to survive without each other, their eventual reunion (spoiler alert) and subsequent adventures at sea. The book covers a lot of physical ground from 18th century Scotland and England to 20th century Boston, back to the 18th century aboard ship and ending in the Caribbean. The season was filmed in Scotland on a large sound stage in Cumbernauld, in Glasgow for exterior scenes and in South Africa, making use of the Black Sails sets for the shipboard time and various Caribbean islands. It’s unquestionably a lot of work and expense to be able to create all of these worlds. So, while I understand that why they did not shoot any exterior scenes in Boston or at Harvard University, I do really wish that they had tried to better match the exteriors. As it was, in Outlander Boston there was literally not one iota of the flavor of Boston, Cambridge or Harvard to be had.

Outlander Boston exteriors

Filmed in North Glasgow, these are screen grabs of the street where Claire and Frank (Tobias Menzies) live. Reading the books, I’ve never gotten a strong sense of where in Boston they lived. Frank’s job was at Harvard, yet the references were always to Boston, not Cambridge. Interestingly, for all the detail and description that Gabaldon puts into her writing, she was not at all descriptive about the Boston home where Claire spent twenty years raising her daughter. I suppose this might be because Claire was just not that into it.

Outlander Boston Season 3 Boston street exterior shot

Outlander Season 3 Boston street exterior shot

So, here’s the thing about Boston. It’s an old city (by American standards) and the main neighborhoods – Beacon Hill, Back Bay, South End and the North End – are all pretty much still as they were by the end of the 19th century. And not one of them looks like what we saw on the screen. Boston is a city made of brick.

Boston Beacon Street, Beacon Hill via

Boston Beacon Street

Boston Beacon Street, Beacon Hill via

Boston Beacon Street, Beacon Hill

Back Bay via

Boston Back Bay arial shot.

Of course, not every building is made from brick. Below is the exterior of my Back Bay Bachelor project which was on Beacon Street. Next to my client’s house was the former residence of Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen. But brick really was the predominant building material.

Beacon Street Boston

South End

South End, Boston

North End via

North End Boston aerial view

Interestingly, I’ve also seen this photo below which is credited as being from West Glasgow depicting Claire and Frank in Boston:

The silver car is the same, but clearly the location is different. Maybe they move in the show? I don’t know other than all the interior shots of their Boston home seem to be the same set. Maybe they had to re-shoot exteriors for some reason and switched the locations. Obviously, this location is much closer to the feel of Boston. The buildings don’t have as many stories, which are usually 4 -5 stories. But the red brick row houses are just warmer. And this is what the Outlander Boston settings really lacked  – warmth. It all just felt very cold – which could have been intended to show the state of their marriage and Claire’s POV.


And then, there’s the real thing…Harvard Yard via

Harvard Yard

Widener Library via

Weidner Library Harvard University

Massachusetts Hall, Harvard’s oldest building via

Massachusetts Hall Harvard University

Aerial view of Harvard via

Harvard Yard aerial

I believe I’ve heard that Harvard does not allow much filming on their grounds ever since the movie Love Story was shot there and there was damage done.

Of course, one might say I’m nitpicking. Again, I totally understand why they didn’t do any location shooting in Boston and at Harvard. I just wish they’d done a better job of mimicking these two iconic and well-documented settings. Future episodes may show a more fleshed out setting but I would have thought our introduction to Boston and Harvard, through Claire’s eyes, would have been the most detailed so as to set the stage.

Outlander Boston Interiors

And, what of the interior scenes? As noted above, their apartment was built on the Cumbernauld sound stage by designer Jon Gary Steele and set decorator Gina Cromwell. They do have a wonderful level of detail.

Outlander Boston home of Claire and Frank, living room

Outlander Boston home of Claire and Frank, study

Kitchen’s have come a long way, baby!

Outlander Boston home of Claire and Frank, kitchen stove

Outlander Boston home of Claire and Frank, living room

The woodwork all seems quite accurate, however, the staircase feels very wrong architecturally.

Claire and Frank in kitchen of Outlander Boston Set

While I do think this apartment is a little large for the salary a visiting professor (even at Harvard) might be able to afford (even Claire asks if they can afford it and Frank acknowledges that it’s a stretch) – it IS a lovely apartment. Notably, everything is very dark – I actually lightened up the screen grabs so we can see more detail. Aside from the kitchen, the rest of the house is very dark with rich dark wood work and color palette, along with low lighting. Since this is a row house, there are only windows in front and back.

The Outlander Boston woodwork very much resembles that in an interior design project I did a few years ago in the South End of Boston. The building, a brick row house dating to the late 19th century, featured walnut millwork and trim around the windows, plus the typical Bay window:

Boston South End brownstone bay window gold and cream interiors living room

Back to Outlander Boston – this behind the scenes shot is much brighter and really shows the detail of the stage set.

Outlander Boston apartment, Claire, Caitroina Balfe, in empty house

Claire and baby Brianna at Boston House Outlander

And these stills show that the house is possibly re-decorated over time. The wallpaper in the living room is different, as are the greens in the front hall.  Frank, Tobias Menzies, Claire, Caitoina Balfe on set at Boston Apartment Outlander

This fabulous party shot below shows a real updating of the style from where we start. Possibly this is to show the passage of time into the more vibrant 60’s from the drabber post-war 40’s. Possibly also that we can assume that Frank’s salary went up and Claire, now a doctor, is earning a salary as well.

Claire and Frank in Boston apartment Outlander

Here is a video with a tour of the apartment set with Caitroina Balfe:

I read that designer Jon Gary Steele decided to use a predominantly blue and green color palette for the Boston apartment and sets based on research into old cars from the 1940’s. And it’s clear that the costumes (designed by Terry Dresbach) follow suit (pun intended). I’m not entirely sure yet if there is any deeper significance to the color palette. As I mentioned above, in general, everything is very dimly shot and kind of dull in tone so far, which is a bit different than the lushness of the Paris sets or even the warmth of the Lallybroch locations. Or even, interestingly, the interiors of the Reverend Wakefield’s manse and the Scottish bed and breakfast of the very first episode. See my previous Outlander posts here.

The Boston of Outlander Season 3 just feels dull and bleak, almost oppressive, which is really not Boston at all (except maybe in the dead of winter, but even then it’s beautiful!) It also doesn’t square with Claire’s stated desire to become an American Citizen because American is “young, eager, constantly looking towards the future…”

Did you watch? If you’re from Boston – what were your thoughts on how our city is depicted? And if you’re not from Boston, did you notice it as I did or were you fine with the settings? I’d love to know!

On a final note – so far no fake Boston accents! That’s one thing I am very pleased about.

Please also enjoy:

Outlander Scottish Castles

Outlander Wining and Dining

Outlander Witchy Women

Outlander The Gathering

Outlander The Rent

Outlander Both Sides Now

Outlander The Wedding

Outlander Glassware

Outlander Elegant Scottish Mansions

Outlander Lallybroch

Outlander Swans and Crocs and Versailles, Oh My!

Outlander Paris is Always a Good Idea

Outlander Boston – What’s Wrong and What’s Right?

Outlander River Run’s Dark Design

Outlander Big House on the Ridge

84 thoughts on “Outlander Boston – What’s wrong and what’s right?”

  1. Hmmm.. I grew up in Framingham, always used ‘Ant’ my Mother was from Michigan, Dad eastern Pennsylvania everyone there called all the Aunties ‘Ant’ ! ps. I thought Bree’s accent was pretty darn perfect to the odd prep school speak found in the Boston suburbs. My sister was at Radcliffe in the early 70’s..she came home at Thanksgiving with this oddity to her cadence- my parents proud we were products of the public school system were bemused, that in order to fit in my sister had adapted this bit of pretension!

    • I imagine it has more to do with how one’s parents spoke. As I mentioned in another comment, mine were from MA so I always said Aunt, even when living elsewhere. Meanwhile, I agree about Bree’s accent. People thought it was wrong she didn’t have a Bahston accent – park ya cah – and all that. But the child of two British parents who attended private schools would never have had a Boston accent.

  2. Although I noticed most of the issues presented here (I was born in Boston and raised in the suburbs), I was most disappointed with the fact that Brianna, born and raised in Boston, uses “ant” for “aunt”, as aunt seems to have remained a consistent usage, at least since my birth. I have never heard anyone form the Boston area use “ant” when referring to a female relative.

    • Hi Ghislaine-Laure – you’re quite right about the “Aunt” versus “Ant” pronunciation. My whole family is from Massachusetts, but I was actually born in upstate NY and lived in NJ until we moved back when I was in middle school. Though at that time I had a slight NY/NJ accent, I never, ever said ANT. My AUNTS would have killed me!

  3. HA! I’m afraid I’ve avoided addictions to Game of Thrones and River Run. Perhaps someday I will catch up! Thanks Linda…hugs…Chris

  4. I must admit, Linda, that I can’t wait for Outlander to come on again so we can discuss, oh, the scene settings and actors’ abilities again!

    BTW, indeed I did check out your website and I love your work!


    • Hi Chris – Thank you so much! Did you see my post on River Run? And yes, can’t wait for the return! But, after waiting 18 mos for Game of Thrones, I’m developing patience!

  5. Marcela – While you are in Boston try the Gardner Museum also. It’s my favorite place and I live here!


    • Hi Marcela – Outlander wasn’t actually filmed in Boston at all. They filmed in Scotland with locations that were stand-ins for Boston. But, there is so much to visit here in Boston, especially with kids. Some are: Duckboat tours, the Freedom Trail, the Science Museum, Aquarium. I hope you have a great time!

  7. Hi, just a note to clarify a couple of points.
    Thats actually the west end of Glasgow, not the north.
    and they havent changed locations, that is the same street, its the other side of the street a couple of houses down.
    I know I live on that street…..in fact my flat has a ‘walk on’ in the scene as they pan down the hill

    the house vary from 2 story terrace houses to 3 story townhouses at that end, its a beautiful street up there, one of my favourites
    what is interesting is taht they have stitched together 2 views with some CGI when they pan down the hill.

    • Hi Zamnet – thanks so much for commenting and sharing the location and interesting tidbits about your street in Glasgow. It is a beautiful street. Also, very interesting that they would CGI pieces and parts together. Maybe to remove any more modern aspects on the street?

  8. Hi, several thoughts to share:

    1. There ARE houses in Boston, on Beacon and Tremont streets for example, which aren’t made of brick, despite “brick” being the norm, and add to that the fact that the city of Boston is more than just its historic “brick” center. Look at late19th century Copley Square – Trinity Church, the adjacent hotel, and the grand public library, all non-brick!

    2. Someone said that Claire’s commenting on a building being one of the only examples of Gothic Revival on campus was wrong – that there IS no Gothic Revival building on campus (or words to that effect), that all buildings are of brick. Wrong on two accounts. Memorial Church IS made of brick, but the style is Gothic Revival. Andover Hall is also Gothic Revival, made of granite, and non-Gothic Revival University Hall is also made from granite.

    Don’t get me wrong, attention to detail does add much to any film or series (I LOVE Castle Leoch and Lallybroch for that very reason) but it’s odd to me that we can’t suspend our imagination a bit to “allow” the buildings shown in the Boston episodes to be “in Boston/Cambridge”, while simultaneously being totally okay with Claire going back in time after she touches an ancient standing stone. 🙂

    • Hi Nicholas – thanks for your comment! Of course, there *are* prominent stone and other non-brick structures in Boston, but it’s not really the norm for Boston proper. As for Gothic – the statement in the show, by Bree, was referencing Gothic architecture, not Gothic Revival. By which I took to mean actual Gothic (13th-15th centuries roughly) because why else bother pointing out the architecture? And obviously, there is no original Gothic architecture in America. And finally, we can suspend our imaginations, of course, but I am a design blogger, from Massachusetts who lived in Boston for several years (Beacon Hill and the North End) who also worked in Cambridge adjacent to Harvard for many years. It’s my “thing”, is what I’m saying! 🙂

  9. Hi,

    I found your great blog after googling Harvard’s “Robinson Cloisters,” just to be sure I wasn’t crazy.

    I began my walks around Boston and Cambridge as a young child holding my parents’ hand, and I never saw any silly thing like those ridiculous gothic ‘Robinson Cloisters.’ An abomination! Why insert a wild, fictional architectural detail at a world-renowned university? It could only invite ridicule.

    If anything, they should have sent a crew to take beauty shots of the iconic Harvard cupolas or rowers on the Charles River, which would give the authentic feel of Cambridge…or the Weeks footbridge. I’m a lifelong Bostonian, and I basically think of Boston as a red city – Cambridge, too. When I saw all those ugly grey buildings it became clear that the Boston segment was nowhere near Boston. As the series had been faithful to so many other details, this felt like a travesty. Why was Boston’s authenticity downgraded?

    It would not have been necessary to shoot at Harvard. There are many architecturally-similar schools around New England that could lend the Harvard feel – for instance, the Groton School in Groton, Mass, St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, or St. George’s School in Newport, RI. This was lazy. They missed an opportunity to portray something authentic to the audience.

    Then there’s the matter of sunshine. Boston is relatively sunny. I knew that it couldn’t be Boston because of the gloomy light. Just to double-check my sense of this, I researched the sunshine:
    Boston has, on average, 2,634 hours of sunlight a year.
    Glasgow has, on average, 1,201 hours of sunlight a year.

    As for the interiors, I am no expert, but I have been in plenty of Boston interiors, and I feel that the rooms would not have been so gigantic. The bay windows were spot on, but there were many oddities. I think of late 40s/early 50s refrigerators as full height, not short…is that wrong?
    I think the short frig is a UK thing, not an American thing. I liked the milk bottle. It was accurate.

    Next, consider the national mood of these two nations: Food rationing in the UK began in 1940 and continued until 1954. That was real hardship. Here in the US, all of that misery was behind us, as our rationing began in January 1942 and went until 1946, about four years in total. So, generally speaking, we Americans were insanely cheerful because the war had ended and also because of our growing prosperity.

    1948 Boston AND Cambridge were growing horns of plenty. Abundance created a great surge of positive thinking, energy, and innovation. I didn’t feel any American atmosphere in those grey, depressing neighborhoods and scenes. I think the drab and loveless marriage would have been more starkly portrayed against a backdrop of American giddiness and bravado. My English friend, now in her 80s, tells me that, when she first came to Boston to live, enduring the relentless optimism of Americans used to be very difficult! Apparently our generally bright dispositions are wearisome! I think Claire and Frank’s unhappiness would be even more glaring in this upbeat and warm atmosphere.

    Love the series but they were lazy about Boston. They didn’t even try. Most disturbing.

    Lastly, that weird giant park with the bagpiper was so wrong. Did anyone working on Outlander have computer access? How difficult is an image search? It was hard to enjoy the action with so many incredibly stupid depictions of Boston. It was so awful that it became funny.

    And, really, I should have made this point first: It would have been a rarity to teach at Harvard and live outside Cambridge. This would have been even more true in 1948.

    Bad marks to the director, the writers, set designers, and location scouts for the Cambridge/Boston debacle.

    • Hi “Holly” – thanks for your comment. I think it really boils down to the fact that with a world-wide audience, most of the viewership will not see the issues with the “Boston/Cambridge” locations so why put the money there in a season which had such big transitions and set pieces already. Only those of us who have been here, or lived here will really see it. That said, it was Diana Gabaldon who placed their home in Boston. I totally agree with you that it was much more likely they would have lived in Cambridge than Boston and that always bugged me in the books. I’m fairly certain when she wrote Outlander in 1991, she’d never spent much, if any, time here. There was very little of her usual description about the place, etc. As for refrigerators, I do think they were still fairly small in that time. My grandparents fridge in the ’70’s was about 65″ tall.

      As for “sunny” Boston – it was miserable here today, so the weather in the series didn’t bother me. I think it’s pretty gloomy here in the winter, which is most of the time frame we saw. The set for their apartment was a redressed version of the set they built for the Paris apartment. So, it was fairly big and probably too big for his salary, but there are certainly larger homes around. If they’d shot in Cambridge, they could have used a Victorian as inspiration, which could have architecturally had large rooms. Anyway, thanks for visiting and your comment!

  10. I used to have classes in Robinson and was so confused during this scene. I was immediately wondering if it was part of the business school or somewhere at the med school and had to stop the scene and ended up here. You are right that it transports you right out of the story, literally! The most annoying thing is it would have been so easy to not get it SO wrong. All they had to do was choose some brick buildings and do a little googling to see if there was any Golthic architecture on campus at all. This was a sloppy blunder in my opinion, and makes me wonder what else they are being sloppy about. Love the show though!

    • Hi Chawna – thanks for your comment. It must be particularly surprising to those who attended Harvard! After listening to their podcasts, I think it was less about being sloppy and more about just not caring to get it right. And I don’t mean that as harshly as it sounds. It’s a big season with lots of set and location changes, I think they just decided they couldn’t go to Harvard and they had access to University of Glasgow, and that most viewers wouldn’t know the difference. But I agree, they probably should have found some brick buildings to film around and not used the Gothic architecture to depict Brianna’s interest in architecture over history. Oh well. I love the show anyway!

  11. Anyone affiliated with Harvard would not live in Boston or refer to Boston as being with they live… Ehy when Cambridge is the center of the universe… Cambridge MA that is! LOL
    Both Boston and Cambridge are beautiful cities too bad it wasn’t it in the budget to shoot for n those locations.

  12. Honestly, as a fan of the love song to Scotland and authenticity that Outlander has been so far, I felt betrayed by the “Boston/Harvard” exterior scenes. It shouldn’t have been impossible to shoot a few brief scenes on location. (And I agree about the staircase!)

    • Hi Nancy – thanks for commenting! Actually, it is impossible to film at Harvard, they don’t allow it at all. And they even don’t allow the use of their logo, crest or any visuals related to their brand. I heard that in the podcast but I also asked a friend who works at Harvard and he said it was a huge deal there. So, even if the budget allowed for it, there would have been no filming Harvard. But, it IS jarring in a show known for it’s attention to detail.

  13. In addition to all the jarring aspects of faux Harvard architecture, Boston streets, and Checkered cabs, what also caught my eye was Claire’s sewing machine. I bought a brand-new Singer in 1967 and it wasn’t anything near as streamlined and modern looking as the one they used. The costumes are spot on though. I had an outfit exactly like Claire’s black coat and dress only in white – from Saks 5th. Also wore white fishnet tights with a minidress. Bree (Sophie S) drives me nuts!!! Her acting is as flat as her hair, which, imo, needs to be cut. But, I adore the show. These are very minor issues with a production that is otherwise truly fabulous. Also thought Hannah as Geneva was perfect, just as I had pictured her in the book- very talented actress.

      • Ah, Linda et al. I have been away for a month; staying with my 93(!) year old friend in North Carolina, sans television, sans internet, sans everything…(yes, line essentially stolen). Great to be back. And, since I happen to have been born in November of 1948; same date as that of our Brianna, I do believe, and having lived in Boston, indeed toaster waffles were there when I was a child.
        We spoke, or at least I did, along with others, of the architecture of Boston v London and we all seem to agree! I just want to put in a quick word on another subject. Frankly, I’m glad that the scenes currently don’t involve Brianna. Her, um, acting, made it difficult for me to get into the plot while she was on. I’m relieved that I see little of her as I enjoy playing catch up. Away from “Boston” and its characters, I go back to being engrossed. Wonderful.

        • Welcome back Christine! It’s funny about Brianna – and maybe I’ve said this in other comments here – but I think that the character is just difficult. I never liked her in the books and Diana has even said she was tougher to write. So, I think that the actress isn’t so bad it’s just that the character isn’t so good and Sophie doesn’t have the chops to rise above a difficult character. Hopefully when she returns and has more to do – not just be someone who reacts to everyone else – things will smooth out.

          • Linda, thank you for getting back to me!

            I know that you have said in the past that the Brianna character is a difficult one but here we will have to agree to disagree. An actor worth his or her salt can play virtually any role when needed. The actor playing Brianna is no better than a high school player. Too stiff, too wooden, few “real world” gestures; eye motions, turns of head, inflections; you understand. No, the person doing the casting let the show and we viewers, down. But, that is just my opinion! And, of course, there is the Boston v London issue which I think we all agree is troubling. Yet- this is still great theatre and without the aforementioned distractions, I am enjoying catching up! And, catching up with you, my friend.

    • I wondered about the sewing machine, but thought I saw someone else say that they thought it looked like one they had, or their mother had. Mine had a Singer and it wasn’t as streamlined as you mention. Thanks for commenting! I love all these POV’s!

  14. As someone who lives in the area, and knows it well, I was somewhat disappointed that no shots were local. The first words of out of my husband’s mouth were, “That’s not Boston or Cambridge!” I think it might have been nicer to actually shoot some exterior scenes here, but I understand budget limitations.

  15. Love, love this blog. I grew up in Framingham, My older sister was accepted at Radcliffe in 1971 and earned a degree from Harvard in 75′. When the Robinson cloister scene rolled I thought, how could I have missed that in all my visits to the campus over the years, and being obsessed with architecture and design lol ! Having spent 30 years living in a brownstone neighborhood in Brooklyn it was obvious the Boston streets were wrong and the Checker cab – a New York thing for sure. I recall Boston taxis were GM branded fleet cars, not Checkers. Moore spoke in the post script about the extra shooting it took to get the Checker cab in, makes no sense given they got the milk bottle brand right! On the blue-green trend – this was very big in the sixties- our dining room had blue/green upholstery and drapes. I wore out a trendy shift dress made of foam backed double-knit in deep blue, trimmed in kelly green, (think Courrege a-line color block)in 1969, my freshmen year in high school.

    • Hi Mary Beth – I wondered about the checkered cab – but not having been in Boston in the ’60’s, I wasn’t sure if we had them here. Good points! And, foam backed double knit.. I remember those dresses! Ugh…

      Btw – how did you find my blog? It seems to have been posted on Facebook because I’ve gotten a huge amount of new traffic, but can’t find the source. Thanks!

      • Hi Linda – I was poking around the STARZ app – they have a ‘inside look’ page and I clicked on something and voila you were there!

  16. Oh thank goodness I’m not the only Outlander fan annoyed by how Boston has looked in Season 3. It was so very clearly not Boston brick architecture for the Randall’s home and street and then they did not even attempt (like Legally Blonde did) to get Harvard right. AND then they choose to make the “fake” Harvard architecture front and center with the whole Cloisters Gothic scene (oh, I wonder if JFK and John Adams stood here?!?!?!).

    While I realize that there would be tremendous cost to moving the whole “Boston” production away from Scotland, seems like it would’ve been inexpensive enough to send a film crew to at least get exterior footage of Harvard and they could have used green screens to place scenes in front of it. It’s clear they just didn’t prioritize getting the scenery right for Boston and did the best they could in Scotland.

    • Hi Lynne – thanks for commenting! I actually think it’s probably quite expensive to film in Cambridge because Harvard doesn’t allow any filming on campus – they didn’t even let them use that Harvard signs/logos or branding in any way, per the Episode podcast with Teri and Meryl. Legally Blond smartly did an aerial filming of her moving van coming to campus, but it’s a modern movie. Outlander would have had to redress streets, close them down, etc. Basically, it’s not really possible. Easier to have found red brick Georgian buildings in Scotland or England. But I think we’re the only ones who know!

      Btw – how did you find my blog? It seems to have been posted on Facebook because I’ve gotten a huge amount of new traffic, but can’t find the source. Thanks!

  17. Hi,
    Really interesting post, thank you.
    I suspect that there isn’t a great deal of detail about Claire’s environs in the book because she just didn’t tell DG about them (that’s how DG writes) As a Brit who has never visited Boston I haven’t the faintest clue what it or Harvard looks like, although I knew enough to note with interest that they lived in Boston not Cambridge – but then my husband describes our location to strangers as Manchester and we’re easily 20 miles outside and not even part of Greater Manchester. Not knowing how close Cambridge and Boston are, I wondered if it was the same sort of thing.

    Anyway, as I said, I have no idea what Boston is supposed to look like – in my head it was sort of a mash up of Brooklyn brownstones and the colonial style buildings oF Alexandria VA – so it does don’t bother me at all. I assumed it was so dark because that’s how Claire feels – the cinematographers on Outlander often use warmth/vibrancy of colour to convey mood or differences (think how 1945 was muted and 1743 vibrant in the first season). I think what individuals find irritating very much depends on their own knowledge – for example I was stuck on Lord John apparently taking only 3 days to lead a roped Jamie from Ardsmuir to Helwater. No mean feat for a distance that has to be at least 250 miles, but only because I drive the length of Scotland every year.

    Anyway, thanks again for a fascinating post, it’s been great to see what Boston really does look like.

    • Hi Nic – thank you so much for your comment. And you’re so right, it really all does depend on one’s direct knowledge of a location, in particular. I was struck that Lord John made Jamie walk in that scene and how three days seemed a lot for walking roped like that (especially as they’d already developed a friendship). But not knowing how far Ardsmuire and Helwater would be, I didn’t think about that aspect. As for Boston and Cambridge – they are next to each other, separated by the Charles River. But, very distinct and separate cities. I suspect if traveling, someone from Cambridge wouldn’t say they were from Boston they’d say Cambridge, whereas I (who am 40 miles south of Boston) will say I’m from Boston just to make it easier. Anyway, thanks for visiting!

  18. I’m glad I’m not the only one who got thrown by the fact that they used Glasgow as Boston. Having attended Glasgow Uni myself, seeing it called Harvard was quite trippy to be honest. Also the park with the piper is Kelvingrove, which is right behind the University and where you can find pipers quite regularly, confusing me even further.

    I like this show but I wish they could’ve just used sets or something if they couldn’t afford to film the real thing.

    The only criticism I have of your article is ‘Doesn’t this all just look so Gothic England? And then, there’s the real thing…’ – neogothic Scotland, thank you very much. Nothing English about Glasgow 😉

    Thanks for this though, really interesting to read.

  19. Hi Linda,
    We are Canadians living in Glasgow Scotland, and are watching the show thinking how much the scenes look like Glasgow and even our own home! Totally love this blog and thanks for the explanations of the scenes!

  20. I have not read the books but enjoying the series nonetheless. I presumed the Boston “darkness” was to remind us of Claire’s grief and sadness. Clichéd thinking on my part I’m sure.

    • Hi Linda – you know, you could absolutely have a point there. I think her whole affect has felt very flat – which definitely indicated her state of mind. So of course, the surroundings and costumes would do the same. I read that they used lots of blues and greens for her costumes and sets as well – but I didn’t read why. And of course she was wearing blue when she returns to Scotland in the last scene – but it was a much lighter color. You should, if you have time, read the books at some point. There is a richness to the story telling that they simply can’t get on screen – though I am loving the show.

  21. I did live in Boston for 25 years, and agreed with all of you about arquitectural issues, my aunt used to live in Beacon Hill and I New was not Boston but I love ❤️ the series and the actors are great.

  22. I had several issues with the episode including the buildings, Boston rather than Cambridge, and the lack of New England accents. I’m not sure there would have been so many female students since Radcliffe was still merging with Harvard at the time.

    • Hi Francesca – thanks for commenting! I actually am happy about the lack of New England accents because rarely does anyone who’s not from here get it right. And, it’s such a mishmash as to who has what accent? Southie or the Kennedy’s/Back Bay Brahmin sort of accent – which to me seemed a little pretentious. I think if Brianna was inclined to have an accent, it would have been closer to the Brahmin accent we associate with Harvard given her parents were British which would influence her. But to me, she’d have never had a strong accent in any case.

      • Completely agree. In today’s Boston, it seems to me that people don’t usually have strong local accents unless their families come from particular neighborhoods like Southie or Charlestown, and have been there for generations. And there are so many micro-accents — better not to attempt it.

          • Absolutely on the comments about the “Boston Accent (s).” Frankly, having grown up in an upper middle class, highly educated family in Boston, I can’t say that my parents, their friends, myself and my friends had/have ANY discernible accent beyond “American”. We pronounce the “r” and speak, I believe, what my mother used to call the “Queen’s English” although Americanized. “I paaked my caa in Haavad Yaad” sounds like poor English to my ear. However, when I was growing up proper grammar was essential and designated class.

          • Well, thinking about it, my own family had a mixed bag of accents. On my Dad’s side we date back to the 1600’s here in MA. My dad and his siblings were raised in Reading. My aunt and uncle had much more pronounced accents than my Dad ever did. My uncle used to call me “Linder” and had no “r’s”, but he lived in New Hampshire for many years. My family lived out of MA for 15 years or so (I was born in upstate NY and then lived in NJ until moving back in middle school). I always pronounced Aunt the correct way, not “ANT” when referring to my own family members, but others were usually ANT. That smoothed over once I moved back. I’d say “bath” with a stronger “a” sound (like Ant) and my dad would tease me, saying “Bahth” with a softer sound. My mother (and Grandmother) used to pronounce the number 4 as “Fo-ah”, almost two syllables. I was asked when in NJ if my Mom was Southern. I know others from New England who say fo-ah as well.

          • Oh golly, my friend, your comments made me giggle as I did recall being teased about my own dialect, if you will. Early on, as all kids do, I emulated my mother’s dialect. When at summer camp, during the time madras was in, I pronounced the word as my mother did in the “English” dialect..maDras with the accent on the second syllable and the “a” as “uh,”, and held for an extra beat, if you will. I was teased for this and for tomuhto, not “tomato” and the rest. So, you are correct, we all have our dialects. However, I still say my “r’s”…. :-); never had a “Boston” accent.

  23. So glad to find your blog, Linda. The discussion of the un-Boston-ness of the series’ “Boston” is interesting and I’m happy to hear many of my own thoughts on the subject confirmed. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said Diana probably wasn’t familiar with Boston when she wrote the books — the lack of detail about Boston bothered me when I first read them, too. She clearly made up the Furey St. address (no such street exists in Boston), and while she always refers to the Randalls as living in Boston, that doesn’t seem to accord well with her description of what is obviously a suburban home – maybe she just meant the Boston metro area. (I just went back and read the passage in Voyager about Claire wandering around the house before she decides to go back to look for Jamie, and couldn’t help noticing mention of azaleas by the door and a garden hose lying out. You probably wouldn’t see those in the Back Bay. Of course, you wouldn’t see azaleas in September at all, which is another clue that Diana hadn’t been to Boston and didn’t care much about getting it right when she wrote the book. Maybe they bloom all summer in the Southwest? So a generic suburban house might have been a better bet than the exterior scenes that so clearly didn’t look like Boston. Oh, well. Those of us who live here are probably the only ones who care. I think Brianna’s remark about the “Robinson Cloisters” being one of the “few” examples of Gothic architecture (by which I took her to mean Gothic REVIVAL architecture, by the way, like at Yale) on campus, was one of those little nods to those who know better – really the writers acknowledging and admitting the inaccuracy. Anyway, I have much bigger problems with Season 3 so far (especially Episode 5) but those can wait for another time. Glad to know I’m not alone in griping about the Boston scenes!

    • Hi Carolyn – good catch on the azalea! I had gone back and re-read the chapters where they described their house as well. And after many readings of the book, I had nothing. We definitely see small gardens in front of South End brownstones, but less so in the Back Bay. I always thought the house was stand alone and as we know, there are very, very few stand alone homes in Boston proper. Oh well, details we know that the majority of readers don’t. When she wrote Outlander 25 years ago, she’d never been to Scotland and I believe she had to walk back a few details in later books that she got wrong initially once she actually visited and heard from people. In the end, it’s the characters that we love, so the little details are of lesser importance – though it’s more obvious watching the series. Thanks!

  24. I was watching the latest episode with my wfe and it was instantly clear that they were nowhere near Boston. I’ve lived on Beacon Hill, in Back Bay, Cambridge, and these days n Newton. As everyone has pointed out Boston proper is mostly brick going back to the early 1800s. The streets go up and down much more and they aren’t nearly as wide as shown on the show.

    As for living space, the open layout of the Randall’s house is all wrong. All the older houses tend to be broken into smaller rooms often with a fireplace per room to deal with the cold New England climate. You’d freeze in the winter time with all that open space to heat.

    Despite all that, a terrific show.

  25. Linda, thanks for directing me back to your blog for this set of comments. Total fail on the Harvard architecture, but what bugs me even more is what one person mentions above–Bree can’t act! She is the first actor in the entire series who (painfully) appears to be acting all the time. The others disappear into their characters. But back to the architecture–agreed on Robinson Hall (not Cloisters, not Gothic), agreed on Radcliffe. Brianna would have been admitted to Radcliffe, even though she would have attended the same classes as Harvard men.

      • I don’t often engage with blogs, but this one has been fun. I love the show, and enjoy your comments about the architecture. In truth, Robinson Hall is an unremarkable building on the Harvard campus, and I doubt any graduate has any memories of it whatsoever, so it’s improved as cloisters! They did capture an aspect of the campus, which is that sometimes one does wonder who’s walked there before. There is even a list of everyone who’s ever lived in each of the freshman dorm rooms, so it can be fun to find out that some President or famous actor preceded you. I enjoyed your photo of Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw; Love Story, old and campy as it is, oozes Harvard!

  26. Oh thank you for your thoughtful analysis of how they really missed the mark in the portrayal of our beautiful city. I’ve gotten a lot of flack from some folks about my displeasure of how Boston is depicted. I agree, aside from the incorrect architecture, the dark dimness and lack of light is just not Boston.

    I interned for the Massachusetts Historical Commission for two summers and appreciate the historical integrity of many of our buildings that have been maintained or restored to their original grandeur. If Frank were working at Harvard and Claire at Mass General, it would make sense that they would live on Beacon Hill for reasonable proximity to both workplaces. For some reason, I always felt like they probably lived on the Boston/Brookline line (which would also be an easy commute across the BU bridge to Cambridge). There are many beautiful homes just over the Boston line adjacent to Boston University’s South Campus, and as I lived there on the corner of Buswell and St. Mary’s Streets, I often walked a few blocks down and found myself in much more sumptuous neighborhoods that really impressed. I have no reason why my mind supplied this location, there is nothing in the books to suggest it, but it just seems like the neighborhoods for academics. In reality, the Randall’s probably should’ve had an apartment on Brattle Street in Harvard Square–but hey, I didn’t write the books, so I”m not going to quibble. Knowing that the South End fell into a decline in the 1780s due to financial crisis with the original residents moving to the adjacent, newly filled in Back Bay area (or the suburbs), and that during the mid-1900’s the South End was falling into disrepair and crime-infested, so I didn’t picture the Randall’s living there.

    What I really object to as a Bostonian, is Glasgow University’s beautifully dark and richly detailed gothic architecture trying to stand in for Harvard’s bright red brick Georgian buildings. I was especially irritated that they used The Cloisters for the scene with Roger and Bree where she talks about the “Robinson Cloisters” as the only example of gothic architecture on Harvard’s Campus when I have never seen anything like that at Harvard and I’ve searched Google repeatedly over the past 36 hours and can’t find anything that I might have missed on my many visits to the campus. There is a Robinson Hall, but like most of the other buildings at Harvard, it’s red brick Georgian.

    Having recently visited Glasgow for the first time, I think Glasgow is an absolutely gorgeous and vibrant city. It has some fascinating gothic and baronial architecture to admire. But with all that stone and granite, it is much darker than Boston and Harvard’s brighter exteriors.

    And you’re ABSOLUTELY right about that staircase. It’s entirely wrong and I didn’t even notice it until you pointed it out. The staircases in Boston row houses are generally rather steep and narrow with ornate wood balustrades. The one in the scene you posted looks more Victorian than mid-18th Century.

    Lastly, the trees and leaf canopy from Glasgow is just so different than Boston. And the topography is just all wrong when Claire takes baby Bree out for a walk in her pram.

    As a long time reader, I was excited when the TV adaptation was granted a green-light. I looked forward to Boston as a filming location, and was sorely disappointed that they decided against shooting here. I realize they can’t film everywhere, but Harvard especially is so well known that it seemed wrong not to at least get some exterior shots here. They went all the way to South Africa to film the West Indies scenes…but they couldn’t send a camera crew out to get some B-roll of Boston/Harvard? (Come one, Cheers has fooled generations of fans into thinking the Bulfinch Pub is actually the bar they saw featured in the TV series) But I know that Harvard does have a policy against allowing film crews on campus–so the location scouts probably just dropped Boston summarily when they learned that.

    I agree with you that attempting a non-bonafide Boston accent is ill-advised, and I am glad they didn’t do that. But they surely could’ve hired a handful of authentic Boston actors to provide the real thing?

    Of course I realize that this is an adaptation, but the production dedicates so much time and money to getting other historical aspects correct, so it cheapened things for me that they did not give the same consideration to our beautiful city. Again, this is in no way a dig on Glasgow, which is amazing–they’re just nothing alike.

    • Hi April – thanks for your thoughtful comment! You are right, for those of us who know the area, the locations they chose takes us right out of the story. I thought last night that the whole “Robinson Cloisters” scene was just too ridiculous because it merely highlighted the mismatched location choice. And given that there is obviously no original Gothic architecture anywhere in the US, to point it out as “the only example of Gothic architecture” at Harvard makes absolutely no sense. Who would point out an architectural style that wasn’t of the period? Obviously, they used the scene to highlight Brianna’s interest in building and physics, but that could have obviously been done in another way. I suppose they make the calculation that of the entirety of the viewing audience, very few will notice. And, given their budgets and the sweep of this season (they had to go to a warm climate with ships, for example) I’m not surprised they didn’t film in Boston. Plus, exterior shots of Harvard today would be probably impossible to get to look like mid-century without a lot of location dressing, which requires shut down streets. I’m not usually one to nitpick details and changes to the books, but this one is baffling. I haven’t been to Scotland (sadly!) but it’s hard to imagine that they couldn’t have come up with some location that had red brick buildings. Oh well. We’re done with that now. As for where they actually lived in Boston – I always assumed it was a single family house from my reading, but couldn’t place where they would be except Cambridge (as you say Brattle Street). I think in that case, Diana G didn’t know Boston at all when she wrote the books, so those details were fuzzy at best.

    • Glasgow isn’t predominantly granite or gothic. It’s actually mostly red or blonde sandstone and 18th century and Victorian. Huge difference between Scottish cities that way. Aberdeen is granite, Edinburgh grey sandstone and Glasgow red and blonde sandstone. You can see in the exterior sets shown here, a mix of the two stones. Colourwise, Glasgow in parts, west end tenement streets especially, does actually resemble Boston in the combination of red buildings and greenery. But, no it’s not brick. Very few older brick buildings in Glasgow, more in England but I can’t think of an English city that has a closer overall form. Funnily enough the stone Boston building in the blog looks like it could be in Glasgow, apart from the flag. What is probably throwing it off more is light.
      Take the point about Glasgow uni looking completely wrong though.

    • Well, actually, in 1968 they were in the merging process i think. I looked it up “In 1963, Harvard degrees were awarded to Radcliffe students for the first time. In 1967, Lamont Library allowed women access. In 1975, the two Colleges merged their admissions.” So, while I agree, she was admitted to Radcliffe, but if she graduated, it would have been a Harvard diploma. Easier to just say Harvard. A little tidbit – Bonnie Raitt would have been there at the same time. She was a Radcliffe freshman in 1967 and it was during her second year that she started her music career and left school.

  27. You say it’s so Gothic England. Glasgow is in Scotland and there’s nothing England about it. There aren’t a lot of red brick buildings in Scotland so they would have struggled to match that.

  28. You stated my feelings about the Boston exteriors perfectly! I grew up in a suburb of Boston, and during my high school years spent many hours hanging out in “The Pit” — where the Good Will Hunting Au Bon Pain is (or was) — and I have been kind of disappointed in the look of the show. I agree with you, that it looks too “cold” and doesn’t go with what Claire says about America being young and vibrant. I have read the books, so I was also expecting at least one or two familiar, scene-setting, exterior shots. The inside of the apartment/house surprised me as well, seeming larger and grander than I’d pictured, but it’s been a while since I read the books, so I’m willing to blame my faulty memory. Thanks for writing about this!

    • Hi Erica – Their Boston “look” does feel very off, doesn’t it? I listened to Ron Moore’s podcast on Episode 1 and he acknowledged that their sets don’t look like Harvard – but he’s kind of – “oh well, some people will notice, some won’t” about it. As I’d said, I think they could have found buildings in Ireland that are red brick and look a little closer to Boston and Harvard University, but they didn’t. As for the apartment, it is much bigger than is indicated in the books. It turns out, they used the Paris apartment sets and re-dressed them for the Boston apartment, so they knew it was much bigger than as Assistant Professor could afford, but the set was built – which is why they gave Claire the line about “Can we afford this?” To which Frank replies “It’s a stretch”. Ron had a term for this – when they put in an acknowledgement to the audience for something that doesn’t really make sense. I’m going to work on a post comparing the two sets to see where they “line” up – if at all. Thanks for commenting!

  29. Thank you for pointing out the fact that Harvard, like Boston on the whole, is BRICK, not stone. And, that Harvard is in Cambridge, not Boston. Those were my biggest critiques. I was impressed with ONE bow to Boston, however, and having grown up nearby, I may be one of the very few to catch this! Whitings Dairy was very popular in the Boston area, in the 50’s and 60’s as I remember, and, I’m fairly sure, the 40’s. The Whitings milk bottle that Claire pulled out of the refrigerator indeed made me clap. So, whomever picked that one out? Thank you!

      • Thank you, Linda. Now, may I wax snarky?

        I am watching episode 5, having recorded it earlier. Bree and Roger are “walking in a spot on the ‘Harvard campus.'” She comments upon it’s being “one of the only examples of Gothic Revival on campus.” Sure is ’cause it ain’t there. I’m from Boston. I’ve walked the campus of Harvard which is in, btw, Cambridge, many times. It’s brick. Harvard is mostly brick. I’m sorry, but between the streets shown and the “campus,” coupled with the young lady’s inability to actually act, I’m having a great deal of trouble getting into this season. Oh and the interior shots? When did I ever see such heavy wood pillars and moldings, etc., in a Boston townhouse? Never. The wood is beautiful; light, delicate, and artfully crafted.

        Last season was a pure joy to behold. Well cast with marvelous actors, one could just step back in time with them. Action, history, rich discussions. Now? All I can do is shake my head…

        • Wax snarky away! As I wrote to April, that the pointed out the Gothic architecture was really dumb. Bad enough they couldn’t find something a little closer to Harvard, but why then highlight it. Obviously, a way to show Brianna’s interest in building and physics over history, but they could have come up with another way to do that. As for the house, I’ve seen heavy millwork and lighter millwork all around Boston and Cambridge. Back Bay is more formal and a little heavier, South End was a little less wealthy, so buildings were less ornate. They used the Paris House set and re-dressed it into the Boston House. I’ve been looking at the plans trying to figure out how it was reconfigured, but they did a good job of masking it. That said – I think Season 2 was all about art – the costumes, the settings – Terri Dresbach and Jon Gary Steele really were able to shine and they put everything they had into their respective crafts. This season clearly shows that the money went to South Africa for the second half of the season. So, the Boston house was pretty and the furnishings were definitely period appropriate and changed with the decades and their improving financial situation, but because they didn’t build it from scratch, they simply made it work without being true to the architectural style of our area. As for Brianna, I’ve never liked the character and I think she’s not a well-formed character. Diana G has said she was hard to write because she wasn’t a character who “came to her” fully formed like Claire, Jamie, Frank/Jack, etc. She had a term for it which I forget, but basically, she HAD to write Brianna in because there needed to be a child, but she didn’t “birth” her. If that makes sense. So much of the Brianna in the books comes from her inner-monologues (which annoyed the crap out of me) and that’s hard to portray without voice over. So, I think if the book character is hard to write, then the screen character is doubly so. She’s just not really fully formed, which must be hard to act. And, I don’t think Sophie Skelton is up to the task of fleshing her out beyond the script – whether that’s from lack of experience or what. The character hasn’t really had anything to do except react to Claire and Frank. Maybe in the future that will change when she’s more active on her own. We’ll see!

          • Inside those townhouses; I’ve been; Back Bay, Beacon Hill, on many occasions and I once worked at the Church of the Advent. I think you will agree that those very heavy wide wood pillars would NOT be found then. Perhaps some in areas reflecting the Victorian era; but nay the Federal. As for all the rest, you are spot on and I realized I repeated myself; and didn’t give you proper credit for originally pointing it all out. I shall be more careful!

            Love this blog, by the way.

    • Thanks Christine! You’re absolutely right – Federal architecture was much more delicate. Victorian much heavier – which is much of the South End (like my design project that I showed in my examples of Boston architecture, which was a late 1890’s period home). And of course, we do have our Gothic Revival examples like Boston College. Actually, that would have been a fine choice of college for Brianna, being Catholic. But even BC didn’t fully go co-ed until 1970. And it wasn’t as posh as Harvard, of course!


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