The Singapore of 1941-2 is very different from the Singapore of 2019-20 in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is visual: the city-state of Singapore is now incredibly built up, with the second-greatest population density in the world.
For that reason, shooting ITV’s The Singapore Grip in the place where it is set proved impossible. Thankfully, the team was able to find a solution in the neighbouring country of Malaysia – with the show’s producer Farah Abushwesha saying that it worked in a way “that I don’t think anywhere else in the region would.”
Where was The Singapore Grip filmed?
The drama was actually filmed further up the peninsula, in Malaysia. Filming took place mainly in and around the capital city (Kuala Lumpur) and the island of Penang.
Why didn’t they film The Singapore Grip in Singapore?
“A lot of people ask why we aren’t filming in Singapore,” producer Farah Abushwesha said. She explained: “This is a period drama set midway through World War Two about the Japanese invasion of Singapore which created Malaysia and Indonesia as they stand today. This whole region was a part of colonialist culture and this story is about the fall of colonialism.
“But none of those houses now exist in Singapore. Singapore is now so built up. It’s a tiny island and they have used every available space. They have even built into the sea. A lot of the old structures featured in the original novel like Beach Road are now several kilometres inland, so you wouldn’t be able to film what we’ve been able to in Malaysia.”
Screenwriter Christopher Hampton told us that it was a “very early decision” not to film in modern Singapore, “because everything is 55 storeys high and you just can’t find the landscapes, really.”
He added: “Malaysia was the logical decision and especially as some of it was already set in Penang, and it was discovered that lots of other locations could be found in Penang.”
Where are the Blackett and Webb mansions?
Hampton said that the discovery of the two big houses in Kuala Lumpur to stand in for the Blackett and Webb residences “really determined the whole shape” of the production – and you can see why. Each house has its own distinctive identity and appearance which translates pretty accurately from the novel, despite the fact that neither is located in Singapore.
Abushwesha said: “The houses of Old Mr Webb and The Blacketts are located at the highest part in Kuala Lumpur. The Blacketts’ house was a former residence of the British High Commission. It was the place where independence was declared in 1956. The Malaysian government then kicked the British High Commission out. Since then it has been a hotel and a restaurant.”
The residence in question is called Carcosa Seri Negara, and it’s currently owned by the Government of Malaysia; since 2017 is has been a museum.
Then there is the nearby mansion, “The Mayfair”, where Matthew Webb (Luke Treadaway) finds himself living after being summoned to Singapore after his father Mr Webb (Charles Dance).
“The Webb house, The Mayfair, is darker,” said Abushwesha. “There’s an orchid room. There’s beautiful artwork. You can see that Old Mr Webb has immersed himself in local culture and traditions. He’s much more bohemian.”
Are those real planes?
Seeing as this is a historical drama, it’s not really a spoiler to say that – later on in the series – we’ll be seeing plenty of planes in the sky above Singapore as the Japanese bombing attacks begin.
Those scenes were actually created in post-production, but one plane is real: the plane which brings Matthew to Singapore at the beginning of the series.
“There’s a military museum just down the road in Kuala Lumpur in a military airbase with a whole load of period planes,” Abushwesha revealed.
Where did they film the firefighting scenes?
Later in the series, Matthew and the Major (Colm Meaney) dedicate themselves to fighting the fires that rage through the city. Day after day, they rattle through the streets with their makeshift equipment and busted-up cars, fighting one inferno after another as the air raid sirens blare.
“The firefighting scenes have been very spectacular,” said Christopher Hampton. “There’s a sort of ghost town not far from Kuala Lumpur airport. They ran out of money about 20 years ago and it’s just been abandoned so we were able to do what we liked there.
“There’s a scene where there is a huge explosion in the upstairs of a shop. It was pretty spectacular to watch. Obviously, we also depend a certain amount on CGI but we did do a lot of it live.”