From the Italian Riviera to Islington: A local resident discovers the borough’s film sets
Islington’s cinematic history has inspired the launch of a new blog about film locations in the borough. Yannic Rack talks to its founder, Xavier Gomez
It’s a satisfying feeling when your local pub or a familiar street corner pops up on the big screen.
This, and a keen love for cinema inspired Xavier Gomez, 39, to start up a blog, mapping film locations around his local Islington. On Lights, Camera…Islington!, launched in October, he writes about a new movie every week, giving background and a little history, spiced up with some pictures.
“Like probably most people, during the week, I wake up, take public transport to go to work, come back, maybe do some shopping at the local supermarket, have a drink,” he says. “But then, I hardly know my borough because I always end up doing pretty much the same all the time.”
That’s why, contrary to similar projects that usually follow a film all the way through its different shooting locations, Gomez decided to focus solely on where he lives.
He explains: “Rather than talking about all the locations of one movie and therefore going from Islington to Oxford to Wimbledon to Scotland and so on, I decided to concentrate on Islington, to get to know the areas I hardly know and also get to see the ones I already know from a different angle.”
When he started looking around on the internet, he quickly realised that there would be plenty of ground to cover. “Considering the large amount of movies shot every year in London, I thought that Islington must have had its fair share of it,” he says.
“I was aware of Four Weddings and a Funeral [Highbury Terrace is home to Hugh Grant’s character in the movie] and Fever Pitch [featuring Arsenal Stadium], but it was probably when I found out that the classic comedy The Ladykillers – the first movie I saw after moving to the UK – had been filmed minutes from my house, that I decided to properly start my research.”
Gomez is from France, but has been living in London for 10 years, the last four in Islington. However, the origins of his hobby lie in Italy. A few years ago, he was travelling to Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino on the north-west coast of the country, the so-called Italian Riviera.
“I found out that this part of Italy had been used for many films, including major Hollywood productions in the late 1950s and 60s, and that big stars used to go to those two seaside towns on holiday as well,” he says.
However, he noticed that compared to London, where thousands of tourists come to take pictures at the famous platform 9-3/4 at King’s Cross, nothing in Italy was promoting the “Golden Years”, as the locals there call them.
He started to look into the cinematic history of the place, took pictures and collected information – all of which resulted in an exhibition last summer in a restaurant on Upper Street, entitled Hollywood on the Italian Riviera. Showcasing posters, records, pictures and other memorabilia from the 1961 romantic comedy Come September, starring Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida, the exhibition was a success, and Gomez is even planning a bigger follow-up.
“The regulars in the restaurant also noticed it and commented positively, some even started talking about the stars on display and their own holidays in Italy,” he says. “As a result, the owner asked me not to remove the exhibition as planned, but to leave it for the rest of the summer.”
Since he only displayed a quarter of his material, he would now like to organise a bigger one – and has even been in contact with the two Italian towns, which endorsed the original exhibition, to try and bring events and exhibitions to the Italian Riviera, informing people about their local film history.
“It was when I found out that the classic comedy The Ladykillers had been filmed minutes from my house, that I decided to properly start my research.”
In the meantime, Gomez will continue developing his Lights, Camera…Islington! blog – he reckons he has enough material to carry on publishing for another year.
The films on his list cover the period from 1924 to 2013, including black-and-white and colour; silent and spoken; dramas, TV series and comedies; low budget productions as well as Bafta and Oscar winners.
From today (Thursday, 19 December) visitors to the blog can explore Great Sutton Street, just off St John Street, for the filming of the 2003 rom-com Love Actually, another Hugh Grant flick. And next in line is a return to Chapel Market for the McDonald’s 2013 christmas advert and Farringdon underground station for the filming of V for Vendetta.