Setting the scene in London
A tour of film locations in the capital adds layers of historical depth to a pop-culture narrative, writes Vicky Roach
SMITHFIELD Meat Market and its environs are an appropriately dramatic place to begin a movie tour of London, reanimating history through the prism of popular culture.
In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens – a vocal critic of the 800-year-old market where, in his day, live cattle were butchered on-site – described it as a “smear with filth and fat and blood and foam”.
Val Blackburn, a director of specialist company Brit Movie Tours, sets the scene with a brief recap of the area’s bloody history of executions. Scottish patriot William Wallace – the subject of Mel Gibson’s Oscarwinning 1995 film Braveheart – was hanged, drawn and quartered here, the statutory penalty for high treason in the 14th century.
Heretics and witches were often burned at the stake, Blackburn says, segueing neatly into a tale about Harry Potter.
While writing an essay on “Why witch burning in the 14th century was completely pointless,” she recalls, the boy wizard came across the example of Wendelin the Weird, who allowed herself to be caught 47 times, as her flame-freezing spell rendered the experience harmless. “She loved getting burned, because it created a gentle tickling sensation.”
Unfortunately, a lot of muggles (those without magical powers) were wrongly accused, Blackburn observes, and having no means of protection, met a cruel and ignominious end.
Healers, midwives and even cat owners came under suspicion. A popular test for witches was the dunking chair. “Your hands and feet were tied. If you drowned, you were a muggle and you were buried in consecrated ground.”
Blackburn’s fan-like enthusiasm for her subject matter is infectious. “It means I didn’t have a wasted childhood,” she says with a laugh, “I turned it into a career.”
Smithfield is also home to the archway in which Bridget Jones was drenched on her way to meet Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) at his offices in the nearby Inns of Court.
Just around the corner is St Bart’s Hospital, which featured in The Reichenbach Fall episode of the hit BBC Sherlock series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
Perhaps it’s the graffiti scratched into the dust on the windows – “Moriaty is dead”, “Lazarus is go”, “Johnlock: Game is on” – but the spot where John Watson watched his best friend throw himself off the rooftop feels strangely like a crime scene.
Fifty statues of the world’s best-known Peruvian bear, designed by the likes of David Beckham and Rihanna, currently line The Paddington Trail, launched to coincide with
the release of Michael Bond’s adapted children’s classic.
Paddington opens in Australia on Thursday. The statues are to be auctioned off at the end of this month to raise money for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, but families intending to visit London next year can plan their own DIY walk with the help of the map on visitlondon.com, or book a seat on Brit Movie’s 2½-hour bus tour starting March 28.
The Brit Movies tour stops at Mr Gruber’s antique shop, Portobello Market and the Primrose Hill film location for the Brown family’s fictitious Windsor Gardens address.
There’s a permanent statue at Paddington Station, from which the marmalade-loving bear takes his name.
Bond’s daughter, Karen, manages the shop at Paddington Station, which sells everything from backpacks and snow globes to egg cups as well as a variety of bears. The creators of the
Paddington movie, which premieres in Sydney today, gained permission to film at the London station.
London’s Natural History Museum also features in the film as the workplace of Nicole Kidman’s vampish villain, a taxidermist who wants to stuff the Peruvian bear.
The museum also features in upcoming Night at the Museum threequel – Secret of the Tomb with Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and the late Robin Williams.
Instantly recognisable by its distinctive red canopy, Speedy’s Sandwich Bar and Cafe – directly below Sherlock’s house in the BBC TV show – isn’t actually located on Baker St.
Owned by Chris Georgiou since 2002, the real coffee shop is in North Gower St, a short walk from Euston Square Station.
When Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his detective stories, 221B Baker St was actually a fictitious address. When a large new office block was built in the 1930s, The Abbey National Building Society started receiving letters addressed to Sherlock.
Today, the Sherlock Holmes Museum officially “owns” the famous address by special permission from the City of Westminster (even though it’s actual physical location is 237-241 Baker St).
In the season three finale, Holmes visits 23/24 Leinster Gardens, near Bayswater. Passers-by would be fooled by the “dwellings”, which are merely facades built in the 1860s.
The stairwells at Somerset House, in central London, feature prominently in the Guy Ritchie movie, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. With its original lamps and cobblestones, the neo-classical Somerset House appears in two James Bond movies – GoldenEye (as a building in St Petersburg) and Tomorrow Never Dies (as the Ministry of Defence). The arts and cultural centre, home to Skye Gyngell’s new restaurant Spring, also stood in for Devonshire House in The
Duchess (Keira Knightley).
From Piccadilly Circus to the Millennium Bridge, the boy wizard and his cronies have cast a long-reaching spell over London and beyond – no selfrespecting fan would leave the UK without a visit to Christ Church college in Oxford, inspiration for Hogwart’s great dining hall, and the Warner Bros. Harry Potter studio tour at Leavesdon, for which it’s crucial to plan ahead.
Great Scotland Yard was the Ministry of Magic in two films.
Australia House was transformed into Gringotts bank in The Philospher’s Stone. And it was on Lambeth Bridge that the magical Knight Bus squeezed between two double deckers.
The inspiration for 12 Grimmauld Place, HQ for the
Order of the Phoenix, can be found at Claremont Square, Islington. The filmmakers initially intended to film on location but when they were denied permission due to concerns over an old water reservoir, the building was re-created at Leavesdon.
Photo and merchandising opportunities can be had at Kings Cross Station, where there is a permanent Platform 9¾ prop.