“Paddington is a love letter to London,” says movie producer and Londoner David Heyman, the mastermind behind the CGI reincarnation of Michael Bond’s loveable traveller, brought to life by the voice of Ben Whishaw. “All too often London is filmed in a grey way, perhaps due to the rainy days. It’s very rare that you see London look as beautiful as it really is.”
Handsomely shot, Paddington showcases the marvellous city in which Heyman grew up. “We filmed all over London,” he recalls fondly. “Paddington is full of richness and colour, it’s a vivid portrayal of not just iconic London but of the warm embrace and multicultural city that it is.”
While the usual suspects – London Underground, Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben and the London Eye – all feature on screen, so does the lesser-celebrated side of the city, from the coloured fronts of Windsor Gardens (shot in Primrose Hill on Chalcot Crescent), to Borough’s old food market and Portobello’s homegrown Calypso music.
Just like Paddington, Heyman is a “veracious traveller,” one of the few reasons he was attracted to Bond’s polite, fluffy explorer. “When Paddington experiences adversity, he keeps on going,” says Heyman, “He is daring, optimistic and tenacious… even though he is a foreigner in a foreign land.”
The movie begins in darkest Peru (shot in the jungles of Costa Rica), where English explorer Montgomery Clyde travels to South America and meets a sleuth of bears. Instead of hunting them and bringing home a trophy for the Royal Geological Society, he befriends the bears, offers them marmalade, and tells them stories about London. Years later, a younger member of the tribe (Paddington as we later come to know him) has developed a taste for fruit preserves and longs to visit the English explorer’s native land. When an earthquake kills his uncle, Paddington sets off looking for a new home and stows away on a freight carrier en route to Britain.
Scared and alone, the bear ends up at Paddington Station, where he meets the Brown family – Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin – who take him in for the night. “Paddington represents us in our own land, we are all outsiders in some way and we all appreciate the warm, welcome embrace of a stranger, who will offer us help and make us feel welcome.
“I’m all too aware of the kindness of strangers, when I arrive in a place as a foreigner,” explains Heyman, who’s visited far-flung destinations from New Zealand, Lebanon and Syria to Jordan, Iran, Pakistan and Columbia, among countless other lands.
“We are all outsiders. That’s why I wanted to make the film, because however well, however happy, we all feel a little bit like outsiders, a little bit alienated, a little bit unknown.”
In London, Paddington runs into a spot of bother, as an evil taxidermist named Millicent (Nicole Kidman) plans to stuff him and put him in the Natural History Museum. Heyman’s previous films (Harry Potter and Gravity) share the theme of overcoming adversity. “They’re all about people and individuals coming together and finding themselves. In Harry Potter it’s about a group of people coming together to defeat the Dark Lord, these are people who know love, and he doesn’t. With Paddington it’s through love that he overcomes Millicent, and with Ryan (Sandra Bullock’s character) in Gravity there’s the adversity of being in the vast expanse of space and the danger that affords. Through that adversity she discovers the importance of living in the present, as opposed to living in the past. It’s through adversity that characters are made, and that we are made,” he says.Paddington represents an old-fashioned optimism and spirit, “The film is very much about the kindness of and the kindness to strangers, which is a wonderful thing to put out into the world,” says Heyman. “All Londoners have experienced the good and the bad, the person who gives a short shrift, and the person who, when we’re lost, shows us the way.
“London is a great city and a unique city… but most of all, London is home.”
David Hayman’s top places to visit in London
The Natural History Museum
It’s a beautiful building, it’s filled with the marvels of history and of nature, as the name would suggest. It’s also my son’s favourite museum, I would go there with him in a heartbeat. I was lucky enough, while filming Paddington in the Natural History Museum, to be taken down into the basement to the specimen rooms, to see Charles Darwin’s specimens. There were beautiful glass vats, which they make themselves, and creatures that are more than 100 years old for scientists to use and learn more about.
It’s such a rich repository of culture. You can see great concerts and great plays at the National Theatre, which are hundreds of years old, but also new talent, new writers, new directors and new voices. It’s an incredibly exciting place to spend time. There’s also the Tate Modern – I love contemporary art. Some of the world’s greatest artists have been shown there.
I think it’s the most beautiful park in London. It’s a combination of refinement and real un-manicured wildness. I have such fond memories of it from my childhood; I used to go there with my father and grandfather when I was a child. The first birthday my wife and I were together, we went there and had a picnic with our four stepchildren. It also has Kenwood House, which is great. London has the best parks in the world.
I’m an Arsenal fan, and even though we’re struggling at the moment, and even though I preferred Highbury [stadium] as it was warm and cosy, there’s not a bad seat in the house.