The Reel Liverpool.
A Pick ’N’ Mix of the 80+ flicks filmed in locations around Liverpool.
An ageing and Albert-less Queen Victoria occupied (rather snugly) the throne of Britain. The University of Liverpool was toasting its fifteenth anniversary with oversized crystal beer steins. (Well, I imagine.) And the city was preparing for its first cinematographic close-up, courtesy of film pioneer, Alexandre Promio of Lumiere cameras. Yes, back in 1896, prior to capturing the first ever footage of Chicago– before Roxie Hart even considered painting the town, and all that jazz- or shooting Venice by gondola in what is acknowledged to be the world’s first motion picture film, Monsieur Snap Happy docked in Liverpool. His mission? To scout out and shoot some Scouse sights. Then, it was the magnificent colonnaded facade of St. George’s Hall that the Frenchman chose to capture- still a destination celebre among filmmakers today, but by no means the only local landmark to be immortalised in celluloid. In fact, over eighty films have been either partially or wholly shot in the city over the years. Below is a top ten (plus one for good luck) Pick ’N’ Mix of the Liverpool flicks.
- Chariots of Fire. (1981)
Ooh la, lad! For the film Chariots of Fire, Liverpool featured as a faux Paris. The Town Hall stood in for a Parisienne British Embassy, while scenes at the Mikado Opera, key to the film, were shot in the Royal Court Theatre with the touring D’Oyly Carte troupe. Nearby Bebington, meanwhile, allowed a reconstruction of the 1924 Olympic Stadium in their Oval Sports Centre. The premise of the factually-based tale is the joint overcoming of prejudice by two athletes, devout Christian Eric Liddel, and the Jewish Harold Abrahams, at that year’s summer Olympics. Fittingly, like the sportspeople it depicts, it won many an award- including four of the Academy sort- and later spawned a West End show. Recently, the B.F.I. have also rated it No. 19 in the top 100 films of all time list. No doubt due in part to its Liverpudlian je ne sais quoi.
- The Hunt for Red October. (1990)
The 1984 book came Reagan-recommended, and the subsequent film version proved just as popular. Submarines of the non-yellow variety abound in the Cold War espionage thriller, as the C.I.A.’ s Jack Ryan (played by Alec Baldwin) makes his first outing in the city, made up to look like 1984 Russia. Liverpool Town Hall and the surrounding vicinity is the Kremlin carbon copy, and From Russia With Love original Bond Sean Connery also stars.
- Revengers Tragedy. (2002)
An apocalyptic retelling of the Jacobean tragedy by playwright Thomas Middleton… probably.
It is set in a futuristic, dystopian Liverpool, a region surviving the natural disaster to have engulfed the South (Boris Johnson gone rogue?) Alex Cox directs fellow Scouser Christopher Eccleston, and Mark Warren. The plot revolves around aristocratic intrigue and double-dealing, with a dash of incest thrown in for good measure; sort of proto-The Crown. Conspicuously non-Scouse, Eddie Izzard is nevertheless excellently despicable as the villain of the piece, whizzing around the Mount Pleasant area in a taxi, fingernails immaculately painted. It is, however, worth watching for the Chumbawumba-graced soundtrack alone.
- Sherlock Holmes. (2009)
You do not need an intellect to rival the super sleuth to work out there’s something fishy going on in this Guy Ritchie-directed adaptation. It could just be the smell emanating from the Stanley and Clarence Docks, masquerading as a Victorian London. Robert Downey of the junior persuasion is accompanied by (Hey) Jude Law around Liverpool-London. There, they once again find themselves tasked with solving riddles, finding bad guys, and generally preventing mayhem. In Liverpool, especially, this will not be elementary.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (Part One) (2010)
Yes, everyone’s favourite boy wizard made a trip to the city for the first instalment of the franchise’s final film. He brought loveable half-giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) along for the ride too… or rather, vice versa. The Birkenhead Tunnel was closed for four days to shoot a sequence in which Harry rides in a precarious sidecar, Hagrid at the helm, escaping from Deatheaters. The Boy Who Liv(erpool)ed?
- Captain America: The First Avenger. (2011)
The Stanley Docks, U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage site and favourite haunt of filmmakers, crop up again in this portrayal of superhero shenanigans. It doubles as Brooklyn, New York, a background to the eponymous hero’s struggle to save the world from a shady terrorist organisation. You can see the area showcased in the film’s official trailer, at around the one thirty mark.
- Fast & Furious 6. (2013)
Originally a car chase-based thriller series, the sixth instalment saw a branching out into the spy and adventure genres, attracting a new audience to become the second highest-grossing of the franchise. Nevertheless, the appropriately-named Vin Diesel still manages a couple of petrol-shrouded high speed pursuits through Dale Street. The Queensway Tunnel, apparent destination of choice for getaways (breaks or drives, take your pick) features here, too, although the route supposedly bisects London, not Liverpool.
- Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. (2014)
Going underground again via the Queensway Tunnel is Jack Ryan. He is now an undercover agent investigating murky Russian monetary dealings; the American flies to Moss Cow (British translation Moscow). Suspiciously familiar, it transpires ‘Moss Cow’ has been, erm, moo-ved to Duke Street in the city’s centre.
- Florence Foster Jenkins. (2016.)
Meryl Streep-led biopic Florence Foster Jenkins adopts Liverpool as a surrogate ’Forties New York. She is the talentless heiress desperate for stardom (think Paris Hilton in a pillbox hat) who sashays around Water Street, passing the Cunard and Liver buildings artfully adapted to a convincing concrete jungle of the Empire State. No purple wheelie bins in sight, but a lot of ubiquitous yellow taxi cabs.
- Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. (201.)
Potter? More? A winner of B.A.F.T.A.s Best Production Design award, Liverpool’s second shot at hosting the Potterverse involved a recreation of New York, again- though this time circa 1920- including the Cunard Building and St. George’s Hall. Newt Scamander is the magizoologist traipsing around after suitcases brimful of mythical creatures. Come to think of it, there were some unmanned suitcases stacked up on Hope Street…
An Auror of Liverpool: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Liverpool-style.
Bonus: 11. Official Secrets. (2019)
Not-so-secretly touted for release in August of this year, Official Secrets centres around whistleblower Katharine Gunn (Keira Knightley), who in 2003 exposed undercover manouevrings in Blair’s cabinet involving the fiercely debated Iraqi invasion. Also roping in a Doctor (Matt Smith) as well as a Dark Lord (Ralph Fiennes), the film is star-studded and has already received critical acclaim upon its screening at the Sundance Film Festival. In it, the interior of St. George’s Hall features as government H. Q. down in London.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is my personal recommendation for an accompaniment to a popcorn and pyjama fest. Though never mind Newt- from the Victorian era to the ’Forties to futuristic, from Paris to Brooklyn to Moscow, Liverpool is a veritable cinematic chameleon of a city.