It’s no secret that I love my adopted home town. I knew whilst spending three years of University here that I could quite happily spend a few more. I’m not saying that I’ve set up camp and I’m never going to leave. But it’s a city I’m pretty content to stick around in for a while longer.
It’s even less of a secret that I love film. Which is why when I saw the advertisement for a Coach trip around the filmic sites of Manchester, I had no choice but to hop onboard.
Manchester In Film
And yes, you heard me correctly. The Hollywood of the North is a Coach Trip organised by Cornerhouse Cinema and Art Gallery in Manchester. Soon to move to HOME with the Library Theatre Company, set to be one of the biggest arts centres outside of London. It’s a pretty exciting venture, and this coach trip was the very last one before the big move in May. It was hosted by CP Lee, former Head of Film Studies at the University of Salford. He made for a really inciteful and witty tour guide on the trip around Manchester’s film heritage. I eagerly took notes throughout and below is just a snippet of the information we were treated to around the city.
One of the most well-known films to be filmed around Manchester is the kitchen sink drama A Taste of Honey (1961). The dance hall scene took place at a gig venue where I’ve had many a good night, The Ritz! It’s on Whitworth Street West, and if you’ve ever gone in you’ll be able to tell that it’s clearly been around for a few years but is still in such great condition.
Another film that features the locations of the city centre is the 1967 film Charlie Bubbles, hosting the talents of Liza Minnelli and Albert Finney. It made great use of its Manchester settings by including a match at Old Trafford grounds. In the little known 1968 musical comedy Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, apparently there’s a really nice crane shot of a pre-clean air act Manchester where all the buildings look black. Living Dead in the Manchester Morgue is a 1974 film that heavily features establishing shots of Manchester including Deansgate, a very well known Manchester street.
I’ve been told that The Hollywood of the North film tour has been a regular event for 25 years! However, I can understand that nothing much has changed in the film history of Manchester in the last 25 years. Except American film companies LOVE making use of the ultra-hip neighbourhood known as the Northern Quarter. NQ is a small section of Manchester city centre that is home to many bars and restaurants. A few of which also pay homage to cult film culture. Recently, Captain America (2011) filmed on Dale Street, and The Genius (An upcoming film due to be release in 2016) starring Jude Law and Colin Firth used King Street as a stand in for Manhattan/Brooklyn streets.
One of my favourite films East is East (1999) has a scene in a fancy clothes boutique filmed in the Northern Quarter and the Hudson Buildings and the local area often stand in for Hells Kitchen and Little Italy.
I lived in Salford for a very brief period of time and I have to say it wasn’t for me. I always feel more at home in South Manchester, though Salford was the location for many a British film. A pub with the fantastic reputation, The King’s Arms, was a location for Resurrection Man (1998) and many a TV show such as Cracker and Law and Order. More recently, Channel 4’s student comedy Fresh Meat was filmed there.
Moving further into Salford and you’ll drive over a bridge that stands above some uninteresting fields and a quiet little church. This church and those fields played an important backdrop to Hobson’s Choice, a 1954 romantic comedy directed by none other than David Lean. It was set in the 1880s and apparently, the river or stream that flows in the field had produced a terrible green foam due to pollution. Since we didn’t have much pollution in the 1880s, the film crew and nearby workers had to try and scrape it to one side so that you couldn’t see it on film. More recently, a quad outside a University of Salford building can be seen in Looking for Eric (2009) when one of the characters graduates.
Coming back into the city centre on Bridge Street, you might be able to recognise this location as the street that Steve Coogan cycles down in the film The Parole Officer (2001).
Parts of the interior of the Town Hall in Albert Square are used as stand-ins for the Houses of Parliament. The Iron Lady (2011) utilised this and also because of it’s resemblance to the Palace of Westminster it was used in Sherlock Holmes (2008). It has apparently been used to replicate the Krelim. Though, we didn’t get any film names for that one. Maybe I’ll have to do some digging myself…
The yet to be released Victor Frankenstein (2015) also made use of the Town Hall. Apparently in Manchester’s Town Hall there is a fantastic Victorian looking street that’s great for atmospheric shots and external scenes.
Moving into South Manchester leads us further into Manchester’s film past. We Travel past Cornerhouse who’s Screen 1 building used to be 24 hour news cinema Tatler News Cinema. Further south, Grosvenor Picture Palace (now a sports bar called The Footage) was the first purpose built cinema in Manchester. Further down Oxford road, leads you past Bamber Hall where the Lancashire Film Company produced two little known films with the Plaza Cinema nearby.
As you get into Rusholme, you pass Banff Road where Burt Kwouk, an actor who frequented James Bond and Pink Panther films, was born. Even further down through Curry Mile and onto Platt Fields is the site of Mancunian Films. Manchester’s longest running film studios that managed to survive the expensive introduction of sound. It had such great successes, for example some of the Mancunian films gained more popularity in the USA than some of the American films had showing at the same time.
Another building of note that has unfortunately also been knocked down was Capitol Theatre in Manchester. It was a cinema and TV studios in Didsbury, which also acted at the Manchester School of Theatre where Julie Walters attended. You can still see pictures of the Capitol Theatre in Manchester in the Woodstock Arms Pubon Barlow Moor Road.
Robert Donat, a fantastic stage and screen peformer originally from Withington (representing!) used to run alongside the trams reciting Shakespeare to work on his stage voice. Palatine Road in Withington is where Factory Records lived, the focal point in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People about the much coveted music scene in Manchester. Party People also featured legendary club The Hacienda. Which unfortunately they couldn’t film in because it is now a block of flats of the same name, but was filmed in a Warehouse nearby.
No specific films unfortunately, but our tour guide CP Lee was very adamant about the fact that Z Arts, an arts centre in Hulme has leant it’s interior to Chicago Town Hall and it’s exterior to a square in St Petersburg. That seems hard to imagine now, granted the filming took place before the large car park. Apparently, much of the area was wasteland so you can see how the film makers could have pulled it off.
I’m sure you’ve reasoned from my incites that Manchester has quirky yet small film past, but I think that’s one of the great things. Sure, you could go on a similar tour around Paris, London, New York and be spoilt for choice of all the big name films that shot on location around the various boroughs. I’d love to go on one myself and I imagine they’d be quite exciting. But you’d miss all the B-movies, all the hidden gems and the lost treasures. On a film tour around Manchester you’d know you were getting it all.
I strongly urge the film fans of Manchester to buy a ticket next time to support the local film industry and to get a truly unique insight into Manchester’s overlooked heritage.
C.P Lee, Our Tour Guide
Cornerhouse was a triumph because when it opened there were a lot of doom merchants who didn’t believe there was an audience in Manchester for anything that was avant grade. But it coincided with the renaissance in Manchester’s psychic soul and that both went hand in hand, marching gloriously forward into the future…
Have you ever taken a film tour around your home town? Learn anything exciting you didn’t know before?