For me, the thrill of recognising a location while watching a film (“We sat on that bench!”) is only matched by the pleasure of making a subsequent pilgrimage there (“This is the bench in the film!”).
But cinema tells geographical lies. Glasgow’s George Square features in Brad Pitt zombie epic World War Z (in cinemas from today). Yet thanks to some very clever set dressers and well-chosen, ethnically diverse extras, the city successfully poses as Philadelphia’s financial district. The recent, 60s-set Brighton Rock remake was shot in Eastbourne (Brighton had changed too much), while Chariots of Fire’s famous quad race was filmed at Eton College near Windsor, standing in for Cambridge’s Trinity Great Court.
Hollywood movies often decamp to London: a sequence in Captain America was shot at Hackney Empire; the interiors of St Petersburg’s Winter Palace in Reds were filmed at Lancaster House on The Mall; and Lambeth Bridge stood in for one over the Moskva in Moscow in Fast & Furious 6 (itself mostly set in London). Meanwhile, Stanley Kubrick’s unwillingness to travel meant that all his later films were made in the UK irrespective of subject matter: Hatton Garden stood in for Greenwich Village in Eyes Wide Shut, while Beckton Gasworks was Kubrick’s Vietnam in Full Metal Jacket. (I made a pilgrimage there, too.)
My favourite UK movie locations have all bucked this trend, however. Spanning 60 years of mostly British cinema, they have one thing in common: they all play themselves.
1. The Ladykillers (1955) King’s Cross, London
While making a radio documentary about Ealing Studios, I wanted to stage my opening link in Frederica Street, where Alec Guinness’s “string quintet” lodge with kindly Mrs Wilberforce. Sadly, the street – just north of King’s Cross – has been buried under two housing estates. Many of the thoroughfares featured in the film are still there, however, and the gasworks is being restored.
2. Kinky Boots (2005) Northampton
My home county of Northamptonshire has not seen much movie action (Silverstone racetrack in Thunderball; Althorp House in Another Country), so when BBC Films made a comedy about a traditional shoe factory’s move into fetish footwear, it was big news for Northampton.
3. An American Werewolf in London (1981) Piccadilly Circus, London
On a trip to the capital, my cinephile friend Paul and I planned to stand in the exact red phone box used by David Naughton in our new favourite horror film. The famous, neon-lit intersection hosts the climax as the creature terrorises passers-by. Eros was still there; the phone box was not.
4. Mona Lisa (1986) Brighton
The pebbly East Sussex resort with its twin piers has proven irresistible, most famously for the 1947 Brighton Rock and Quadrophenia. This crime flick moved atmospherically between London and the coast, climaxing memorably with lovelorn driver Bob Hoskins and call girl Cathy Tyson’s face off on Palace Pier.
5. Trainspotting (1995) Edinburgh
The opening chase has shop-lifting junkies Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner tearing down the busy Princes Street pursued by store detectives. Anyone who knows this fine city will spot that they emerge under Calton Street Bridge. Enjoy it while you can; the rest was shot in Glasgow.
6. Odd man out (1947) Belfast
Carol Reed’s classic in which James Mason’s doubt-wracked IRA man dodges around an unnamed Belfast is famous for what is actually a detailed studio facsimile of the city’s Victorian- era Crown Bar, with its Italian stained glass and tiles (many assumed it was the actual boozer). West Belfast provides the foggy exteriors.
7. Spike Island (2012) Widnes, Cheshire
Mat Whitecross’s nostalgic new film (in cinemas from 21 June) re-creates on authentic locations the legendary outdoor Stone Roses gig in May 1990 that saw thousands of fans descending on a reclaimed toxic waste site on the Mersey estuary.
8. Far from the madding crowd (1967) Dorset
Dorset’s most famous son Thomas Hardy fictionalised his home county as “Wessex” and many film/TV adaptations have been shot there. John Schlesinger’s glorious addition is faithful (aside from a few trips to Wiltshire), drinking in the gorgeous scenery at Shaftesbury, Lulworth, Abbotsbury and the Esplanade at Weymouth.
9. Gregory’s Girl (1980) Cumbernauld
Bill Forsyth’s teen romance put Dunbartonshire’s “overspill” town on the map, specifically the suburb of Abronhill, where Gregory attends school. The place couldn’t have asked for a better advert.
10. Get Carter (1971) Newcastle/Gateshead
In Ted Lewis’s novel, mobster Jack Carter returns home to Scunthorpe. For the film, director Mike Hodges chose Newcastle, attracted by the iron bridges and the brutalist 60s architecture, encapsulated by Gateshead’s Trinity Square multistorey car park. Fans tried to save it from demolition in 2010 but failed.
World War Z is on general release from Friday 21 June