On-Screen London Locations
All world cities have at least one defining landmark, a visual shorthand that lets you know exactly where you are. New York has the Empire State Building, Paris the Eiffel Tower, Sydney the Opera House. But nowhere has as many as London, from traditional icons like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace to more modern ones like the Coca-Cola London Eye and Sir Terry Farrell’s Thameside MI6 building, so memorably blown up in Skyfall (the actual building remained unharmed).
The city’s unique combination of historic and modern structures, often found in remarkable proximity, makes it a magnet for filmmakers. There is an average of 50 film crews shooting on the streets of London on any given day, with the film industry contributing £4.3 billion to the UK’s GDP, according to a 2014 survey.
Thanks to Britain’s rich literary and historical traditions, many London streets and buildings are embedded in the global imagination. But while the Bank of England, for example, may have remained unchanged since the Edwardian period, it couldn’t serve as a location for next year’s Mary Poppins Returns without CGI artists busily removing modern street furniture, yellow parking lines, and skyscrapers visible in the background. Nevertheless, if you’re prepared to accept that they may not look exactly like they did on the screen, there’s no shortage of real-life places to visit that will bring favourite films to life.
As seen in Hampstead (2017)
Loosely based on the true-life story of an eccentric, who for decades lived off-grid on this 791-acre expanse of green countryside in the middle of north London, this later-life romcom is set among the heath’s meadows, woodlands, natural swimming ponds and 500-year-old oaks. The heath also has one of the highest points in London, Parliament Hill, which offers a stunning panorama over the city.
As seen in Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)
In Elizabethan times, Borough, and the south bank of the Thames in general, was a disreputable part of town known for its taverns, brothels and theatres (including Shakespeare’s Globe). But today it’s exactly the kind of upmarket, trendy area TV reporter Bridget would live in. The heart of Borough is the market under the Victorian railway arches, London’s foodie central with stalls selling artisanal cheeses, organically farmed meats and fresh fish, as well as excellent restaurants and pop-ups.
Natural History Museum
As seen in Paddington (2014)
One of Paddington’s most nail-biting scenes was the sight of the little bear running for his life across the turreted Victorian Gothic roof of the National History Museum. The terracotta building was originally constructed to house samples provided by Britain’s great 19th-century explorers and scientists – notably Charles Darwin. The exhibits, drawn from the museum’s 70 million specimens, range from huge dinosaur teeth to tiny insects.
As seen in The Crown (2016)
In reality, the funeral of George VI (father of the current Queen) took place at the 14th-century St George’s Chapel, the Royal Family’s private chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle. However, for the Netflix drama, Southwark Cathedral at the southern end of London Bridge provided the setting for the moving scenes. The cathedral is the oldest Gothic church in London, with parts dating back to the 12th century. Look out for classical music recitals on Mondays and Tuesdays.
As seen in Wonder Woman (2017)
Lincoln’s Inn is a collection of buildings erected between the 15th and 19th centuries around a secluded courtyard. Taken together, they form one of the four Inns of Court (a type of Bar Association with added functions). It was here that the scene of a young Diana Prince getting her first sight of London was filmed – although don’t expect to see horse-drawn carriages. The grounds are open to visitors but tours of the buildings must be arranged in advance. Just across nearby Kingsway is Sicilian Avenue, the picturesque, colonnaded lane where Steve Trevor notices he and Diana are being followed by German agents.
Speedy’s Sandwich Bar And Cafe
As seen in Sherlock (2010)
Fans of the television series will be familiar with Speedy’s red awning, as the café occupies the ground floor of what purports to be Sherlock Holmes’s residence at 221B Baker Street. Speedy’s is a real place, but it’s actually located a short walk away at 187 North Gower Street. The exterior of the café has made a cameo appearance in almost every episode of every season, although the interiors are shot elsewhere. That said, the climactic scene of Season 2’s A Scandal in Belgravia was shot in Speedy’s itself, and the production team’s redecorating job remains in place.
As seen in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2104)
Where else but Savile Row, the Mayfair street that’s a byword for the nest in men’s tailoring, would the dapper agents of Kingsman have their headquarters? Their secret base is entered through a Savile Row shop allegedly called Kingsman, but in real life the distinguished suitmaker Huntsman has been at No. 11 for almost 100 years, providing menswear to everyone from Edward VIII and Clark Gable to Ronald Reagan. Rumour has it the shop also appears in the forthcoming sequel, Kingsman 2.
Senate House, University Of London
As seen in Their Finest (2016)
This wry, witty satire set in Britain’s lm propaganda unit during the Blitz was partially shot in the Art Deco splendour of Senate House, the actual wartime headquarters of the Ministry of Information’s Film Division. The Portland stone tower is often used as shorthand for a menacing bureaucracy, whether the ‘Russian’ Interpol HQ in Fast and Furious 6 or the Ministry of Truth in the 1984 version of 1984, – hardly surprising since the building inspired George Orwell’s original.
As seen in Night in Hatton Garden (2017)
It was a story right out of a movie: four old guys get together for one last big job, breaking into a safe deposit vault and making off with a fortune in gold and valuables. So it’s no wonder filmmakers have been rushing to turn this true-life caper into a film, with Michael Caine and Ray Winstone spotted filming the most recent version in Hatton Garden, the Holborn street that has been the city’s jewellery district since the 1870s.
BFI London Film Festival
The BFI London Film Festival, the biggest event in the London film calendar (4-15 Oct), offers more than 200 screenings of domestic, international, popular and niche films. Many are UK, European, or world premieres, and prices start at £5 for the under-25s. In addition to films, the Festival offers a programme of in-depth talks with directors, leading actors, and other creatives. There are also gala events, kicking off with the opening night’s European premiere of Breathe, actor Andy Serkis’ directorial debut. Staring Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man) and Claire Foy (The Crown), the film tells the true story of a man who defied grim medical odds thanks to the determination of his devoted wife.
Screenings take place at seven central London venues, plus others in more outlying neighbourhoods. Check for the full schedule. bfi.org.uk/lff