Sunday, August 26, 2012

London in the Movies

Mary Poppins (1964), Walt Disney
London is an iconic, sprawling film set, where hundreds of great loves have been born, dark crimes have been hidden, adventures have began and stars have left their footsteps. Turn any corner in the city and you could be struck by an overwhelming sense of deja vu as you find yourself in a strangely familar spot, transported into a childhood fantasy or a cult classic.

As I wander around London, I often feel like I'm in a film. Looking out of the window over London's rooftops on a misty evening still always reminds me of Peter Pan. The dark cobbled alleyways around Grays Inn Road, near my offices, are evocative of the shadowy Victorian lairs of Oliver Twist. Even rush hour tube journeys have a certain novelty - if I miss a train, I sometimes wonder if that might have had a Sliding Doors effect on the course of my life.

Peter Pan (1953), Walt Disney
So on a sunny Saturday morning, my companion and I, who share a mutual love of romantic comedies, Harry Potter and musicals, could think of nothing lovelier than to take ourselves on a tour of London's movie locations.

We left my friend's flat in Waterloo and began our journey on the South Bank, where Hugh Grant famously said, in the words of David Cassidy, 'I think I love you' (Four Weddings and a Funeral).

Harry Potter 

Dark clouds appeared from nowhere and loomed ominously as we crossed the Millennium Bridge, creating that 'disaster movie' sensation of the calm before the storm. It felt, for a moment, as though the Dementors were coming.

Thankfully, we reached the other side of the bridge, unlike the poor Muggles in the scene from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, when the Death Eaters destroy it during a rampage through central London.

Once safely north of the river, we spied Australia House on The Strand, which moonlights as the setting of the wizarding bank, Gringotts, in the films. And of course an embarrassing photo at Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station is also a must for any self-respecting Potter geek in London.

On my way to Hogwarts

Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Although now interspersed with branches of Starbucks and Pret, many of the old, crooked establishments on Fleet Street are still reminiscent of Tim Burton's atmospheric musical Sweeney Todd. The film tells the story of murderous Johnny Depp as the demon barber who fills neighbouring Mrs Lovett's homemade pies with his victims' remains.

With this in mind, as we neared the end of Fleet Street, I was alarmed to see a Wagamama directly underneath a dodgy looking barber shop. Maybe stick to the vegetarian options if you ever decide to eat there...


Mary Poppins

As we approached the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, where a melancholy old lady feeds the pigeons after dark in Mary Poppins, the heavens opened in true chick flick style. This rather scuppered our plans to 'feed the birds' as Julie Andrews sung in the film, as they all flew away, unimpressed with the soggy bread on offer. (This must be why Disney decided to film the whole thing in a California studio).

A gorgeous day to re-live Mary Poppins

The roof terrace on top of next-door shopping centre One New Change is the perfect place to gaze upon St Paul's and over the rooftops of the City. If you look closely, you might even spot a few Cockney chimney sweeps in the distance leaping around Dick Van Dyke style... maybe.

However in what had become a dramatic thunder and lightning storm, with rain launching itself at us from all angles, a rooftop was perhaps an unwise choice. Looking more like drowned rats than rain soaked heroines, we quickly decided the credits had rolled on our day of movie fun and we retreated indoors for a large glass of wine.

Notting Hill 

There are still enough classic film locations to warrant at least another day of exploring, particularly in the pretty-as-a-picture village of Notting Hill. (Yes, that'll be Hugh Grant again - still being wheeled out for any London-based romantic comedy). The Travel Bookshop from the movie has sadly closed down, but you can still spend a leisurely afternoon looking for the little house with the blue door, and peering into the communal gardens where Hugh and Julia Roberts shared their first kiss.

These pretty streets are also the romantic setting for one of my favourite scenes from Love Actually, when Andrew Lincoln brings his signs over to Keira Knightley's house and tells her he loves her, 'without hope or agenda'. This scene was filmed in St Luke's Mews in Notting Hill and is one of those locations that feels just as magical in real life.

Love Actually (2003), Universal Pictures / Studio Canal / Working Title
However Walt Disney discovered the joys of this area long before Richard Curtis, in the classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks. A real life jaunt down Portobello Road would be so much more fun if only life was a musical...

Not The End...

Thousands of tales have been told about London town, and it would take a lifetime to experience them all. I've not even mentioned the gritty East End stomping grounds of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the mysterious temples of The Da Vinci Code, the Elizabethan theatres of Shakespeare in Love, or the elegant parks of Finding Neverland.

Ticking them off is a great way to explore the city, but rather than trying to cram it all into a day, I think I'll try to experience the rest one at a time, saving each one for when I am feeling a bit jaded and most in need of some movie magic.

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