Islington on screen: The borough as a film location
It shouldn’t be news to anyone that London has a special place in the global film industry. But what has Islington to do with Batman, Harry Potter and the English suffragettes?
As is well-documented by the Lights, Camera… Islington! blog and map, the borough is home to numerous film locations. Among them are the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, 12 Grimmauld Place (Claremont Square) and Gotham City Police Station (St. John Street). At the end of last month, the borough saw the suffragettes marching again through Myddelton Square.
Meryl Streep, personifying the leader of the suffragette movement Emmeline Pankhurst, was joined by BAFTA-winning actress Carey Mulligan in a new film, Suffragette, which was filmed in part in Islington. Monica Potts, chair of the Myddelton Square Leaseholders’ Association, appears optimistic about the feminist film. “It’s wonderful that a film about such an important woman will be made in part locally and starring such great actresses,” she says.
But this isn’t the only example in Islington’s film repertoire; Oscar winning director Christopher Nolan has revisited the borough in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight for use of the Farmiloe Building that can be found on St. John Street. Once seen as a Shanghai warehouse but more often depicted as the police station of the fictional city of Gotham, the building is neighbours with another film favourite in the form of JD’s bar from British gangster comedy Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.
It’s unlikely that you’ll see a gang of mods ordering in S&M Café on Essex Road nowadays. In the 1960s, however, they were there – when it was called Alfredo’s, in The Who’s rock opera, Quadrophenia.
FilmFixer is the independent film office in charge of filming locations within Islington, as well as numerous other boroughs across London, and boasts to be “the largest film office in the UK, responsible for over 6,500 film days per annum”. Run by Karen Everett and Andrew Pavord, along with a team who also have backgrounds in the film industry, FilmFixer demonstrates the advantages of having such popular film locations on your doorstep. According to the film office’s website: “We pride ourselves as good members of the community, enabling London residents to enjoy the full advantage of filming in their neighbourhoods.”
Film and cinema is embedded in Islington – from the local area being used as a filming location to film clubs such as Reel Islington. This organisation is supported by local arts charity Rowan Arts and “offers members of the community the chance to meet, socialise and enjoy stimulating films from both established and up-and-coming directors” at its First Friday Film Club and Reel Islington Film Festival. Once a month film enthusiasts gather to enjoy and discuss a range of films whilst the annual film festival offers a variety of free and ticketed film screenings and events that are intended to encourage and support film appreciation within the community.
Birthplace of Robert W. Paul, an early pioneer of British cinema, Islington has been home to over 40 cinemas since the invention of film in the 1980s. This cinema-rich history is celebrated in the 2013 venture of Islington based artist, Sam Nightingale: Islington’s Lost Cinemas is a “large-scale art and cultural history project that makes visible the little known history of film and cinema in the London Borough of Islington through photographing the everyday urban sites where these historic cinemas once stood”.
The project included artist-led cinema walks which would tour around the historical cinematic sites of the borough. The public is still encouraged to contribute their own local film knowledge to the website for Islington’s Lost Cinemas. Nightingale describes the importance of exploring Islington’s cinematic history through the memories and experiences of the community: “I don’t want this to be a nostalgic project but one that recognises our changing urban environment and the way in which memory and history perhaps remains as a latent or ghost like presence in these spaces.”
Follow Meaghan Spencer on Twitter: @MeaghanSpencer