5. Goldeneye (St Petersburg)
While we’re in Bond mode, let’s cast an eye over the Pierce Brosnan outing of the mid-90s. What appears to be St Petersburg turns out to be…Somerset House, just next to Waterloo Bridge. Somerset House is constantly being called into action as a film set, including a house in Old Manhattan in the aforementioned Sleepy Hollow. Occasionally, it even appears as itself as in the romantic comedy Love Actually – there genuinely is a skating rink in the courtyard every Christmas. In Goldeneye, however, it is definitely not itself, but apparently being a film crew in Russia is just as dangerous as being a secret agent there, as the unit that did go there required bodyguards. Safer to stay in London!
4. Full Metal Jacket (Vietnam)
And that was the personal philosophy of director Stanley Kubrick, who was so afraid to travel that he made his entire Vietnam war epic in the UK. A lot of it was filmed at Beckton Gas Works, an abandoned industrial plant that still belched out noxious gases as the crew arranged foliage in a jungle-like way around it to look like the ruined city of Huế. At this point, they may have been prepared to take their chances on the real battlefields rather than the chemicals and asbestos of East London. Still, Kubrick had a fearsome reputation for stubbornness and if he said that the Isle of Dogs could stand in for the Humid jungles of ‘Nam, then no-one would argue with him. And to his credit, he pulls it off in the final film – there’s no way of telling that the jungle is plastic.
3. Les Miserables (Paris)
At least Kubrick had the excuse that Vietnam is a bit of a long way away. The makers of the hit musical Les Miserables were obviously just ignoring the fact that you can get from London to Paris in a couple of hours on the Eurostar nowadays, and just chose to film the revolutionary epic in Greenwich instead. To be fair, the Royal Naval College is a prime filming location, thanks to its unspoilt, ye-olde looks and it’s hosted everything from Gulliver’s Travels to Pirates of the Caribbean. In fact, the locals are pretty blasé about Hollywood stars turning up in their backyard, but it seemed that everyone got a little exciting about the combined star-power of Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. Even Greenwich University had a little starstruck moment….
2. The Dark Knight Rises (Gotham City and Florence)
Yet another film that used the Royal Naval College was The Dark Knight Roses, third in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. The college appears for a few minutes at the end, posing as a cafe in Florence, but it’s at odds with the rest of the film where London appears to be playing Gotham City. The Farmiloe Building in Clerkenwell became Gotham Police Station, and the Crush Hall of Senate House saw Bruce Wayne dancing with Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway (clearly a London fan!). The Senate Hall also featured in “Batman Begins”, as the lobby of the courthouse.
But the London action doesn’t stop there, with Stansted airport and a Croydon hospital both making an appearance, interspersed with locations in New York, LA and Pittsburgh. Clearly, unlike Kubrick, Christopher Nolan is not afraid to travel.
1. Eyes Wide Shut (New York)
So it’s fitting that we should come back to Kubrick for the number one slot. The novella that Eyes Wide Shut was based on was set in Vienna. So, what would any sensible, travel-fearing director do? Why, re-locate it, of course! But not to London, where Kubrick was living, but to New York. And then he filmed it in London anyway.
The bohemian streets of Greenwich Village were replaced by the not-quite-so bohemian streets of Farringdon and Moorgate. The Sonata Club was played by Madame Jo Jos in Soho and Hamleys Toy Shop and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital also made appearances. A second unit in New York got a few actual American locations, but the majority of the scenes were either sets or shot around London and the Home Counties. A very American retelling of an Austrian tale, that is almost entirely British. Job well done, Stanley!