Christopher Nye discovers why South West London appeals to Hollywood film-makers
A military helicopter swoops low over central London. It follows the Thames, rounds Big Ben glittering gold in the early dawn and lands in Trafalgar Square, scattering pigeons and discarded Caffe Nero cups. Out jumps Tom Cruise. It’s the opening to Edge of Tomorrow, the $175million Hollywood blockbuster of the summer. Readers have the advantage over me, because at the time of writing it hasn’t opened yet so I’m judging by the trailer, which then shows our Tom crossing the Thames heading south, gazing out over a devastated city, then hooking up with a ballsy English girl to kick the butt of some freakish alien invaders.
The scene in Trafalgar Square required the film company to contact 8,000 businesses, divert 70 bus routes and all turn up very early one Sunday morning in November 2012. Given the hassle and expense, you can see why most producers would rather film with a little less hullabaloo south of the river.
The most recent Hollywood blockbuster to be actually filmed in the Borough of Wandsworth is Jack Ryan, Shadow Recruit, which came out in January. Here, an American studying at the London School of Economics hooks up with a ballsy English girl to kick the butt of an invader, this time a Russian oligarch who plans to destroy central London. Sounds more like a documentary.
Of course, we can do challenging social realism too. About as far removed from a Hollywood blockbuster as you can get, the 1971 film Sunday Bloody Sunday is about Hampstead liberals having sex with each other and was ground-breaking for its gay themes. It was filmed though, in a house in Spencer Park, Wandsworth and features Daniel Day Lewis in his first film role, vandalising cars. His first starring role was filmed down here too, running My Beautiful Laundrette in Wilcox Road, Vauxhall.
But that’s enough of the kitchen sink; if there’s something we could do with in South West London it’s escapism. Like for example, Mary Poppins. Number seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, where the Banks family live, is not given a location within London in the book or film. Actually, neither is Dick Van Dyke’s ‘cockney’ accent, but when Hollywood came to film Saving Mr Banks, the story of the author’s right royal stitch up by the wily Walt Disney – no such luck to the ballsy English girl this time – they filmed part of it in Wandsworth.
Wandsworth comes third only to Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, with 1,267 days filming in 2012, and in the same year as Saving Mr Banks there was also I Give it a Year, All Stars, Closed Circuit, Cuban Fury, About Time, and A Long Way Down. This last featured four depressed people who meet coincidentally when they all choose the same South London skyscraper to throw themselves off one New Year’s Eve. Described by one critic as “spectacularly unconvincing” (Really? With four people who meet coincidentally when they all choose the same South London skyscraper to throw themselves off?) at least it has a great cast and a happy ending. (Okay, I’m guessing – I didn’t quite reach the end).
While Trafalgar Square might get Tom Cruise, aliens, astonishing battle scenes costing £175million, and all that, South West London is the home of the low-budget rom-com. And frankly who hasn’t, when squashed into another man’s armpit on the 08.38 from Clapham Junction, felt a little like they’re starring in their own romantic comedy? In a fascinating twist to the usual, Cuban Fury features an English man, Nick Frost, teaming up with ballsy American girl Rashida Jones to kick butt at a salsa dancing contest.
Also romantic dancing sort of, the hilarious ‘Americano’ nightclub scene from The Inbetweeners Movie supposedly in Malia, Crete was actually filmed at Infernos Nightclub in Clapham. Sorry to kill the movie magic. Another splendid rom-com, I Give it a Year, was filmed in both Wandsworth and Richmond. Yet another trans-Atlantic romance – either that or Rose Byrne couldn’t quite get the accent – it concerns a sexy, wealthy young couple in London struggling to, well, get through the first year of marriage.
You get the feeling that so many movies get made here because Hollywood stars fancy spending a month or two in London. Salma Hayek even moved here permanently last month from Paris, to help her film career, she said (and nothing whatsoever to do with French taxes at all).
To finish, two more locally made mega-movies, featuring a bat and a frog. No it’s not the National Geographic Channel, but Batman and The Muppets Murder Mayhem. One was filmed in Richmond Theatre with lots of song and dance numbers, and one in a stripped out, ruined, wrecked, wet and dirty Battersea Power Station. No prizes for guessing which is which. Film makers will miss the empty power station, which has played the part of dystopian hell for dozens of movies, TV shows and videos in the past 30 years. Where can they go next – Clapham Junction at 5.30 maybe?