As a man who spends most of his time in dark rooms, staring at a screen and ignoring the people around him, it would be unfair for me to pretend I’m some sort of expert on social convention. That said, I think it would be fair to describe the atmosphere as a little awkward, as our sizeable group of journalists, publicists and tour guides was confronted by the chap whose house we’d been photographing.
We’d been on a tour of locations used by Universal Studios films, and this startlingly pink house, our fourth stop of the day, featured briefly in Love Actually as the home of Kiera Knightly’s character. It seemed like as good a place to stop as any just minutes before, but now, as our tour guide explained the significance of the property to the oblivious, and somewhat confused homeowner, I began to doubt that, and quietly slunk away back to the bus.
It wasn’t the first time that day we’d been met with a mixture of bemused suspicion. Throughout the morning, we’d been driving around West London, looking at locations from Notting Hill – Max and Bella’s house, the private garden Hugh Grant’s character tries to break into, and the famous* house with the blue door round the corner from Portobello Road where Grant’s character lived. Each time we got off the tour bus, we were stared at by members of the public, who were trying to work out what we were doing, why we were looking at otherwise ordinary houses, and how we had time to be sightseeing on a weekday morning.
Of course, the answer to all three questions was fairly simple – with Universal Studios turning 100 on the 30th April, we were celebrating by touring around London, looking at locations used in some of their movies. We’d been joined by Sue Quinn, who had worked as the location manager on several Universal films, including Notting Hill, Love Actually and Elizabeth. She gave some context to what we were seeing.
After we left the Love Actually house, the tour moved away from residential properties (which was a relief), and into the Italian Gardens in Hyde Park – used in both Wimbledon, and for a fight between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Somewhat disappointingly, the fountains, which are the location’s most recognisable feature, were turned off due to a water shortage, although it was a relief to not have the owner of a property looking at us as if we were an inept group of burglars, casing their home.
Moving on from there, we got back on the bus, and headed to Grosvernor Chapel in Mayfair – the location of Kiera Knightly and Chitwetel Ejiofor’s wedding in Love Actually. Of all the properties we’d seen until that point, the church was the most recognisable. Very little had changed since the filming, nine years ago, except a new coat of paint – being applied as we were in the building.
On our journey between Mayfair and our next location – Great Scotland Yard, we headed past Buckingham Palace, and along the Mall, recently used in Johnny English. Indeed, as we drove along, we watched the scene in which Rowan Atkinson was chased along the road in an electric wheelchair. Eventually, in spite of the incredibly slow traffic, we made it to Great Scotland Yard, used in both Atonement and in Children of Men. Even without set dressing and clad in scaffolding, the road is rather spectacular.
Next stop was Borough Market, home to expensive food and pretentious gits. Also, to Bridget Jones. In real life, the entrance to her flat is the side door to a pub, which seems a little inappropriate for the lovelorn post-feminist. Once again, we were in the public gaze here, and our presence caused something of a traffic jam, as people started filming the camera crews, who were filming journalists talking about a door that had been used in a film.
After a surprisingly long day of staring at buildings, we headed to our final location, and by far the most spectacular – St Bartholomew the Great Church. The oldest church in London, it has featured in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shakespeare in Love, and the soon to be released Snow White and the Huntsman. Trying to explain the church here would never do it justice. It’s a spectacular building, and one that will almost certainly be familiar to film lovers. It’s certainly worth a visit. Indeed, the whole day was, in spite of the slight embarrassment factor.
Universal are re-releasing all the films mentioned above on Blu-Ray to celebrate their 100th anniversary. If you want to check out the locations yourself, it’s probably worth watching the films beforehand. It’s definitely worth getting in touch with Brit Movie Tours, who run all sorts of different film-based tours around London.
*It was, briefly in 1999 at least.