A journey through London is a journey through cinematic history. The capital has played host to so many big feature films you’d be hard pressed to walk a mile without bumping into a famous movie setting. Take a trip around the city with our guide to the top filmic destinations…
This West London neighborhood has played host to an array of films over the years. Back when Notting Hill was known as a poor and neglected area Nicolas Roeg’s art-rock drama “Performance” (1970) used Powis Square as the setting for Mick Jagger's rundown bohemian abode. But the area is perhaps best known as the affluent setting for Richard Curtis’s eponymous film. Check out the Print Room at the Coronet: now a charming little theatre, this venue was once the Coronet cinema where William (Hugh Grant) watched “Helix”, the science fiction short starring Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) in “Notting Hill” (1999).
This riverside location is one of the most filmed in the city. It’s a favourite due to its ever shifting landscape of buildings and attractions including the Millennium Bridge, Tate Modern, and London Eye. James Bond’s current residence is in fact an amalgamation of various buildings on the South Bank including the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) headquarters. “Spectre” (2015), “About Time” (2013), “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994) and “Wimbledon” (2004) all feature scenes that were filmed along the South Bank.
Thanks to the architectural grandeur of this leafy London borough Greenwich has provided the scenery for a range of historical dramas. Films include “A United Kingdom” (2016) and “The King’s Speech” (2010). The Old Royal Naval College – a World Heritage Site located in Greenwich – is featured during during riot scenes in “Les Misérables” (2012) and the opening carriage chase in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”. The Naval College was originally built as a royal palace and was the birthplace of queens Elizabeth I and Mary I.
The park has been the backdrop for a number of feature films over the years. In David Lean’s classic British romance “Brief Encounter” (1945) Alec and Laura row across one of the park’s lakes and Alec falls out of the boat near the park’s Long Bridge. The London Zoo within Regent’s Park has proved a particular favourite among filmmakers. It is during a visit to the zoo’s reptile house in “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone” (2001) that Harry learns he has supernatural powers. In the final scene of “Withnail and I” (1987), Withnail delivers a soliloquy outside the zoo’s wolf enclosure.
In the cinematic dictionary nothing says “This is London” quite like an exterior shot of Piccadilly Circus. It has featured in a number of films including “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (1997), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), and “28 Days Later” (2002). Piccadilly Circus was the setting for the final action scene in John Landis’s werewolf classic “An American Werewolf in London” (1981). Landis was the first director given permission to film in Piccadilly Circus following several years in which filming was prohibited following a film shoot gone awry; whilst filming a scene for “The Jokers” there in the late 1960s Michael Winner set off an unannounced smoke bomb that caused chaos throughout the center of London.
As one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city, London Bridge has provided the cinematic backdrop for numerous international films. Among them are “Tomb Raider” (2001), “The Mummy Returns” (2001) and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” (2004). The bridge features in “The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus” (2009) when Dr Parnassus stations his bus-come-portable theatre in the shadow of Tower Bridge. The filming location was in fact underneath the bridge in St Katherine's Way.
This grand neoclassical building located on the south side of the Strand has proven a popular filming location for big Hollywood blockbusters. It provided the backdrop for films including James Bond thrillers “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) and “GoldenEye” (1995) and Sherlock Holmes films “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” (1970) and Sherlock Holmes (2009). In “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), Ichabod Crane and Katrina’s turn of the century New York abode is actually the interior courtyard of Somerset House.
A mainstay of London life, the vast London Underground tube network has captured filmmakers’ imaginations throughout the years. An early example is “Passport to Pimlico” (1949), in which a magician sparks chaos by releasing a suitcase full of doves into an overcrowded tube carriage. In “Death Line” (1972) the London Underground is reimagined as a horror setting; descendants of railway tunnellers trapped by a roof collapse in the late nineteenth century cannibalize innocent passengers travelling between Holborn and Russell Square stations. And in “Sliding Doors” (1998) it’s the Underground that determines Helen’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) romantic destiny.