London is such an international city – sit on the tube and you can hear ten different languages being spoken around you. People from every country in the world flock here and there are parts of London where you could almost believe you were in another country (like the cluster of Vietnamese shops around Hackney or Iranian in West Kensington). No wonder then that London has taken on the role of many other cities around the world in movies and TV. Sometimes it’s down to budget, sometimes it’s a director who just doesn’t like flying. But it seems that London can be just about anywhere. Take a look at some prime examples in our Top 10 Movies in Which London Plays Somewhere Else.
10. Legally Blonde (Harvard)
Of course, with London being such a seat of learning and home to so many fine universities, you’d assume that it took on the role of Harvard because the producers felt it had the grandeur needed. Actually, it was a far more pragmatic reason – the movie’s ending hadn’t gone down well with test audiences and they needed to add an extra scene on to the end. But Reece Witherspoon was no longer in America – she had gone to London to start filming The Importance of Being Earnest, so the production team followed her there and got the graduation scene at Dulwich College. The rest of the cast weren’t there, but that’s OK – they were spliced in afterwards.
9. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Berlin)
Remember that scene in the third Indiana Jones film where Indy is being chased through Berlin Airport by Nazis? Well, here’s a shocker – it’s not an airport and it’s not in Berlin. It is, in fact, the Royal Horticultural Hall in Westminster. Airports are busy places, so an events space in London is the obvious place to film, right? It’s been used in a number of films and adverts, most recently one for Barclays and a memorable trailer involving some acrobats for the BBC. It’s clearly a bit of a blank canvas as it also appears in Richard III and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” video, in very different incarnations each time. I believe the Nazi flags were only for The Last Crusade though…
8. Highlander (Manhattan)
Highlander is a very confused film – Sean Connery the Scotsman plays a Spaniard, Christopher Lambert the Frenchman plays the Scotsman – so it’s inevitable that it’d get its locations mixed up too. It’s also understandable that the producers would confuse London for New York, as it seems to happen so often in movies (the Bourne Ultimatum and Sleepy Hollow being just two further examples). After all, the skyscrapers and busy traffic of the Square Mile would make anyone think twice about where they were. But it’s a bit baffling that they chose the unremarkable north-west area of Kilburn to play the part. Specifically, St Augustine’s church, which fills in for a New York church. As with many elements of this film, don’t think too hard about it…it won’t stand up well to scrutiny.
7. Backbeat (Hamburg and Liverpool)
Backbeat is a film about the formative years of the Beatles, focussing on their highly talented bass player Stu Sutcliffe. (Of course, fans of the film or of Beatles’ history will know that his talent wasn’t for playing bass, but for modern art) The movie is set in two cities – Hamburg and Liverpool. So, naturally, it was filmed in London. A gym in Kings Cross became a Liverpool pub, a German record company found itself with offices in Hampstead, and Ladbroke Grove was suddenly home to the Kaiserkellar (above). Every club that was featured in the movie was somewhere in London, with Kilburn popping up again as the Star Club. Apparently, to recreate a German red light district in the 1960s, you just have to head to North London!
6. Skyfall (Shanghai)
When Brits visit China, they always report back just how strange and other-worldly it is. How completely alien the culture is to their own. Which was the vibe that Sam Mendes was going for in the latest James Bond installment, Skyfall. In an interviewwith screenwriter John Logan, the choice of China was described as this: “We wanted exotic locations that seem so unlike the world that he grew up in, the world that he functions in, in a way trying to find places for Bond to be uncomfortable”.
So, of course, they filmed it in Liverpool St. That’s right, the Shanghai office block featured so prominently in that segment is actually Broadgate Tower in the City of London. And the swimming pool is near Canary Wharf. Kind of shatters that whole, other-worldly illusion, doesn’t it? Apparently, the aerial shots were filmed in the real Shanghai with the kind permission of the government, but thanks to budget constraints London stepped in once again for the close-ups.