It might not be on a par with New York, but London is littered with its own A-list of iconic movie locations. Many of them are fairly famous or obvious (in case you’re wondering, the river that Pierce Brosnan whizzes up in The World is Not Enough is The Thames). But countless others are tucked away down side streets, in outer boroughs and, in one case, at the bus depot next to Westfield. There are hundreds to choose from, but we’ve settled on five favourites – all lesser-known landmarks in London’s cinema history
All Saints Church, Fulham - The Omen
Our journey begins here, a sacred site for both God botherers and self-respecting horror fans. It’s in the small graveyard of this unassuming church next to the Thames in Fulham where priest Father Brenan (Patrick Troughton) is impaled and killed by a falling lightning rod (obviously not a top of the range one, as it was a bolt of lightning that caused it to fall), in Richard Donner’s superlatively sinister 1976 film, The Omen.
Far from being just a random electrical storm, this particular burst of meteorological malevolence is caused directly by him downstairs. You see, Father Brenan was onto something. Minutes earlier, he’d been by the river with Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), warning him that his adorable cherub of a son, Damian, was more than just a problem child: he was the spawn of Satan himself. Thorn, however, wouldn’t listen. As is the normal response to a wizened Irishman babbling about heaven and hell while looking like he’s on the wrong side of a four day bender, the demure Mr Thorn told him to where to go and then wandered off, probably to buy Beelzebub Jr an ice cream.
But his obstinance wouldn’t save Father Brenan. No sooner had Thorn gone, the weather suddenly turned. Brenan smelled a very Hades-like rat and went running for the church, only to find it locked. Cue his appointment with the not-fit-for-purpose lightening rod, and a classic horror movie death.
Dimco Buildings, White City - Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Only in a somewhat deranged fantasy comedy could Shepherd’s Bush stand in for LA. Which is precisely the case in Robert Zemeckis’s much-loved 1988 noir pastiche, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In fact, the lion’s share of the movie was shot in the UK, at Elstree Studios, with the real-life City of Angels only used for a few exterior scenes. As for the London location filming, the crew’s trip to what is now a bus depot at the back end of Westfield London provided the film with its climatic closing sequence.
The Dimco Buildings, a cavernous piece of eye-catching Victorian brick-work, stood in as the Acme Factory for the final showdown between private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) and the evil Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) – subtlety wasn’t looked on favourably in the character naming department. It’s in here that Lloyd reaches the apex of wickedness, transforming into a chillingly high-voiced, stoner-eyed uber-villain toon, who no doubt haunted many children’s dreams for years to come. And also in here that Hoskins performs a ‘comedy’ routine that isn’t nearly as funny as you remember it being when you were young. It’s also hard to watch now, knowing that it should have been Bill Murray – he was first choice for the role and only missed out because he didn’t check his answerphone messages in time. Still, it’s all a nice little anecdote to bore your mates with the next time you’re waiting for the Number 272.
Southmere Lake, Thamesmead & Trinity Road underpass, Wandsworth - A Clockwork Orange
Picture this: you’re a film director in the early 70s, aiming to adapt Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel about disaffected youth in a dismal near-future; you want to shoot their vicious local neighbourhood on location in the capital, but where do you find somewhere that is both futuristic and forbidding, that is modern, unsettling and preferably just plain ugly? It’s a shortlist of one: Thamesmead.
This architectural abortion in south east London was the perfect setting for Alex DeLarge and his gang of ‘droogs’ to embark on their campaign of nihilistic violence. And one Thamesmead location in particular kicks the shit out of the others in the memorability stakes: Southmere Lake. It’s on the western shore of this decidedly un-picturesque concrete pond (renamed Flat Block Marina in the film) that Alex reasserts his authority over his too-big-for-their-boots gang. Accompanied by an almost comedically chirpy classical score (La Gazza Ladra by Rossini, in case you’re wondering), Alex delivers a cane and blade-based lesson in who’s boss, which leaves two of his companions both wet and bloody. Incidentally, this same lake also acts as a key location in another futuristic tale of wayward youth – it’s around Southmere that everyone’s favourite band of hoody heroes wield their naff powers, in Misfits.
Unlike the other films we’ve included, A Clockwork Orange warrants a double bill of iconic location mentions. The second can be found in Wandsworth, beneath a large traffic island that is notable for little more than a huge advertising installation and the pervasive smell of wee. And, of course, A Clockwork Orange. It’s in one of the four subway tunnels that bisect the island (the southern one, between Trinity Road and Swandon Way, to be precise), that we first witness Alex and the droogs’ penchant for ‘ultra violence’, as well as one of the most famous shots in the film. Immediately after the milk bar opening, the gang arrive at the entrance to the underpass, shot from the far end and in silhouette against a bright white light. In the world of seminal shots-turned-posters, it’s pretty much up there with Scarface and his “little friend”, or Vince and Jules poised to execute. And the droogs’ subsequent beating of the soused Irish tramp that they find lying in the subway is one of cinema’s more famous pieces of depraved thuggery. That said, a lot of people in Wandsworth deserve a beating, so he probably had it coming.
22 Highbury Terrace, Highbury Fields - Four Weddings and a Funeral
Few British films have as much to answer for as this amiable 1994 trot through the romantic incompetence of a group of 30-something poshos. For one thing, it made a massive global star of Hugh Grant and enshrined ‘bumbling upper class tit’ next to ‘sinister upper class megalomaniac’ in Hollywood’s list of favourite British stereotypes. Furthermore, it drew Richard Curtis forever away from the satire that made his name and sent him down the irrevocable road towards Love Actually. Speaking of which, it also set the thematic template for a litany of substandard British rom-coms. And yet, in spite of all this, it’s so bloody enjoyable.
Or, at least, until the very last scene. It’s rare for a film of such enormous popularity to contain a line of such derided infamy, but Andie MacDowell’s slack-jawed query about the weather is in a league of its own shitness, and iconic for that very reason. Perhaps it’s her excruciatingly wooden delivery (not even good wood, we’re talking balsa or chipboard), or simply that the line is nonsensical tripe. Either way, it’s as notorious as Led Zeppelin’s fish tank (and no, we’re not going to repeat either the line or that rumour). But guess what: the good news is that it happened spitting distance from Highbury & Islington Tube, on the northwest corner of Highbury Fields, where the road meets Highbury Terrace Mews. Which means that you and pretty much every other person in the world can visit the location to deliver the line better. Every cloud...
Crystal Palace Park - The Italian Job
Many classic films have been made in London, and many memorable pieces of dialogue delivered on the city’s streets. But only one line sits on the head table of all-time Hollywood greats. You’ve probably guessed it already: the nasally nine word ticking off that Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) gives his overzealous accomplice (Michael Standing) when his explosive device blows more than a van’s (bloody) doors off. It has, of course, gone down in history – often imitated, paraphrased and generally regurgitated to the extent that it really isn’t funny anymore. But it’s a classic nonetheless, and it was – quite incongruously – delivered in the pleasant surroundings of Crystal Palace Park.
This raises a variety of questions, the most pressing of which is: if you’re planning an audacious international heist worth millions of pounds, why the fuck would you test your explosives in a busy London park in the middle of the day? So much for the cunning and ingenuity of thieves. But anyway, should you want to visit the hallowed spot, Caine and Standing watch from the foot of the huge television transmitter in the north west corner of the park. The van itself is placed on a small lawn near the Canada Gates entrance to the park, on its southern edge, spitting distance from Crystal Palace Station.