17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Spike Island | almostginger.com

I mentioned in my last post, which detailed the best Manchester-based TV shows, that there are so few British films set in Manchester and I am quietly, but constantly, seething about this.

Thousands of British films are set in London and the south, thousands. A good proportion will be about various Monarchs and other members of the Royal family, and a fair few will be set in southern countries like Hampshire and Buckinghamshire where Jane Austen book adaptations take place.

But, British films in the north? Not nearly enough. And not nearly enough films set in a city as big and diverse Manchester.

The films set in Manchester are generally about its football clubs or music scene. Which doesn’t really seem fair to me, because Manchester is a great location for films for so many other reasons.

Oh well, I’ll stop ranting… For now, here are 17 pretty decent films set in Manchester for you to sink your teeth into.

17 Films set in Manchester you MUST watch

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Yanks, There's Only One Jimmy Grimble, The Patrol Officer, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, Spike Island, Raining Stones, Peterloo, Looking for Eric, Hobson's Choice, Hell is a City, East is East, Control, Charlie Bubbles, Believe, A Taste of Honey, A Kind of Loving and 24 Hour Part People | Manchester films | British films | Films from North England | Visit Manchester | almostginger.com
© Vertigo Films

1. Hobson’s Choice (1954)

Director: David Lean

It’s a pleasant surprise that a director like David Lean would choose to film Hobson’s Choice in Salford. Granted, the film is set in Salford, but this isn’t always a given. Salford must’ve been pretty much unchanged from Victorian England which is when the film takes place.

Hobson’s Choice is about a bootmaker in the 1880s and his autocratic boss Hobson. The latter runs into trouble when his three daughters are all wed and a surprising usurper takes his business out from under him. A bit like A Christmas Carol except no ghosts.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Hobson's Choice | almostginger.com
© British Lion Films

2. Hell is a City (1960)

Director: Val Guest

I’ve been lucky enough to watch Hell is a City on the big screen but damned if I remember anything about it. I just remember the most famous scene where there is a fight on the roof of the old Refuge Hotel (now The Principal Hotel) on Oxford Street.

Lovingly dubbed a ‘Manc Noir’ due to its similarities with the popular American crime genre, google tells me Hell is a City was a Hammer Films Production. The film follows a police inspector who is on the tail of an escaped convict as he heads back to Manchester to pick up the loot from his last robbery before he was incarcerated.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Hell is a City | almostginger.com
© Pathé

3. A Taste of Honey (1961)

Director: Tony Richardson

The 1960s were rife with ‘kitchen sink realism’ which are gritty, British dramas that focused on social issues like poverty and the breakdown of traditional family life in the North of England. So, there is one genre synonymous to Northern life, but it’s depressing and was only really around until the end of the 1960s.

A Taste of Honey, set in Salford, is about an unwed schoolgirl who’s mum abandons her. She then gets knocked up by a sailor. Not just any sailor, but a black sailor! Gasp! She also lives with her gay, male friend. A pretty progressive girl, really. Nowadays, this could be a pretty lighthearted comedy film.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including A Taste of Honey | almostginger.com
© British Lion Films

4. A Kind of Loving (1962)

Director: John Schlesinger

I hadn’t even heard of A Kind of Loving until curating this list. It’s still in the ‘kitchen sink realism’ genre like A Taste of Honey but is perhaps not as well known.

The film follows draughtsman Vic and typist Ingrid who both work together in a Manchester factory. Ingrid accidentally falls pregnant so the two are forced to wed, though Vic isn’t as taken with Ingrid and she is with Vic.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including A Kind of Loving | almostginger.com
© SUU Design

5. Charlie Bubbles (1968)

Director: Albert Finney

This seems like a really odd film to be shot in Manchester, mainly because I thought Albert Finney was American. Apparently, Albert Finney is from Salford of all places. And Liza Minnelli?! What’s she doing here?

Charlie Bubbles is Albert Finney, a boy who has hit the big time in the big smoke and is back in Manchester to see his family after a few long years. The Charlie that left Manchester is clearly not the one who has returned.

Charlie’s newfound middle-class profession and wealth are jarring against the rundown, working-class Salford backdrop. I’m sure there are many parallels between Charlie Bubbles and Albert Finney’s own life choices as it seems quite a personal story.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Charlie Bubbles | almostginger.com
© Universal Pictures

6. The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)

Director: Jorge Grau

This is one of the oddest films set in Manchester. Also known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (there are no less than 15 different film titles which the film was released under), the film has something of an underground cult status these days.

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue is a Spanish-Italian sci-fi zombie horror about George, who runs an Antique shop in Manchester. Poor George only wanted to drive up to the Lake District to work on a house with some friends but alas, Edna and the other infected humans had other plans.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue | almostginger.com
© Star Films S.A.

7. Yanks (1979)

Director: John Schlesinger

You would think a film starring Richard Gere and Vanessa Redgrave wouldn’t be so obscure, but it was a huge box office flop. Yanks depicts the lives and relationships between US soldiers and the local British women they encounter during WWII.

The film isn’t just set in Manchester, but all over the local area and the Pennines. So, the film doesn’t have a distinctly ‘Mancunian’ feel like most of the other films set in Manchester on this list.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Yanks | almostginger.com
© United Artists

8. Raining Stones (1993)

Director: Ken Loach

Ah, Ken Loach’s first appearance on this list of films set in Manchester! I wondered when one of Britain’s most ‘realist’ directors would finally shoot a film in Manchester. Technically, the film is set in Middleton, which is a town in the county of Greater Manchester and not set in the city itself. But, considering so many of the films on this list are set in Salford (which is a city in its own right!) I had to widen my boundaries a little.

Harking back to the kitchen sink dramas of thirty years prior, Raining Stones is about a father who can’t afford to buy his daughter her First Communion dress and is pushed to the edge trying to make the money. If you’ve watched any other Ken Loach films like I, Daniel Blake (2016), you can imagine what a barrel of laughs this film is.

I am poking fun at Kitchen sink realism and directors like Ken Loach, not because I don’t like or admire them, but because you’ve got to laugh at the number of horribly depressing films, with no silver lining or proposal for improvement, which are set in the north of England. They are the reason why it seems ‘grim up north’ and I wish Richard Curtis would make a film like Love Actually (2003) in a northern city. 

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Raining Stones | almostginger.com
© BFI Video

9. East is East (1999)

Director: Damien O’Donnell

My favourite Manchester based film, and probably in my top 10 favourite films of all time. I absolutely adore this film. East is East represents everything that is good about England, in my opinion.

Yeah, East is East is also set in Salford. Apparently, Salford is amazing and all British filmmakers hate Manchester and Salford rules all.

East is East is set in the 1970s and follows the lives of a British-Pakistani family. In particular, how the children navigate adhering to their Muslim father’s traditional values whilst enjoying the new opportunities their British mother’s country gives them. Most of the film is really lighthearted and so so funny, but there are also very important social battles that the family has to contend with such as arranged marriage, racism and domestic violence.

More films like East is East, please!

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including East is East | almostginger.com
© Miramax

10. There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble (2000)

Director: John Hay

The first football film on the list and definitely not the last. I can’t help but sing There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble in my head as I write the title and, as much as I turn my nose up at football culture, the sound does warm my cold heart.

Jimmy Grimble is a family friendly, rags-to-riches story, and controversially chooses to support Manchester City over Manchester United.

It is young Jimmy Grimble’s dream to play for Manchester City (shocker), but he doesn’t have it easy. He is bullied at school, his mum is dating a weirdo motorbiker and he can’t get off the bench to play for his school team. Suddenly, a random old lady (don’t talk to strangers, kids) gives him a pair of magic football boots and his luck begins to change…

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including There's Only One Jimmy Grimble | almostginger.com
© Canal+

11. The Parole Officer (2001)

Director: John Duigan

Starring Comedian/Actor Steve Coogan, The Parole Officer follows the titular character of Simon Garden as he is transferred from the nearby town of Blackpool to Manchester after many of his colleagues submit complaints against him. As with many films about cops that aren’t exactly cops, Simon witnesses a horrific crime. He must step up to protect the people of Manchester from corruption.

It’s a comedy and also features a young, pre-Game of Thrones Lena Headley!

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including The Parole Officer | almostginger.com
© Universal Pictures

12. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

Director: Michael Winterbottom

If you asked a room of people ‘what’s your favourite Manchester film?’, assuming they have watched at least three films set in Manchester, most would answer 24 Hour Party People. A drama that often breaks the fourth wall, Steve Coogan portrays Tony Wilson, a Granada TV Reporter who also moonlights as Factory Records label head and owner of infamous Manchester nightclub the Haçienda.

The film documents Wilson and the Manchester music scene from the end of the 1970s to the beginning of the 1990s. Famous Manchester bands such as The Happy Mondays and Joy Division feature heavily. 24 Hour Party People is really not to be missed if you have any interest in music at all. It’s a proper cracking film.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including 24 Hour Party People | almostginger.com
© United Artists

13. Control (2007)

Director: Anton Corbijn

A good double feature for 24 Hour Party People is Control, a biopic about doomed Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Curtis had a turbulent youth and suffered from epilepsy and a number of serious mental illnesses. Again, a must-view if you’re remotely interested in Joy Division or the music of Manchester.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Control | almostginger.com
© Momentum Pictures

14. Looking for Eric (2009)

Director: Ken Loach

Ken Loach is back with one of his slightly more optimistic films set in Manchester (I said slightly). But, it’s about football so it gets a yellow card from me (I just like original themes, okay?).

Whereas There is Only One Jimmy Grimble chose Manchester City, Looking for Eric is about former Manchester United player Eric Cantona. He must be a pretty famous footballer because even I’ve heard of him.

And yes, for the umpteenth time, this supposedly Manchester-based film is set in Salford. This whole blog post is a lie.

The spirit of Eric Cantona (playing himself in the film) manifests himself to a postman also called Eric (really? Couldn’t think of another name?) at a really low point in his life. Footballer Eric helps postman Eric deal with his problems thus teaching him that tackling his problems alone is not the answer and being part of a team is better. Just like football. Aww.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Looking for Eric | almostginger.com
© Icon Film Distribution

15. Spike Island (2012)

Director: Mat Whitecross

Even though it’s only so-so, I quite like Spike Island. The Stone Roses, an incredibly popular Manchester band, are due to play their legendary 1990 gig on Spike Island in Cheshire and a band of Mancunian misfits don’t have tickets.

I like that some scenes are filmed in Affleck’s, which is an alternative shopping centre (mall, maybe?) in the Northern Quarter and it’s just an all-around feelgood film.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Spike Island | almostginger.com
© Vertigo Films

16. Believe (2013)

Director: David Scheinmann

ANOTHER football film, focusing on Manchester United (it’s 2-1 to United if anyone’s keeping score) and the club’s legendary manager Sir Matt Busby.

It’s not a very well known film, but Brian Cox portrays Sit Matt Busby and he’s a phenomenal British actor, so you’d think the film would have more fans.

Young football-mad boy Georgie Gallagher meets a mysterious elderly gentleman who agrees to coach Georgie’s football team. The mysterious elderly gentleman, of course, turns out to be a former footballer and manager Sir Matt Busby. I have no idea if this is based on a true story, but I doubt it. What a weird premise for a film.

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Believe | almostginger.com
© Trinity Filmed Entertainment

17. Peterloo (2018)

Director: Mike Leigh

Finally, we’ve reached a film set in Manchester which is coming out this year. Peterloo documents the Peterloo Massacreand it’s being released just a few months shy of the 200th anniversary of the event. I think only locals and those clued up on British politics have ever heard of the Peterloo Massacre, but it’s such an important moment in British history.

About 60,000 people from Manchester and surrounding towns met in St Peter’s Fields (now Manchester’s St Peter’s Square) to demand the reform of Parliament and voting rights.

This was long before the Suffragette movement when only middle-class, land-owning men could vote in ‘elections’ if you could call them that. It was supposed to be a peaceful meeting. After all, most were just regular working-class people. But the Military felt confronted so they started attacking the public. Many civilians were killed and hundreds wounded.

Obviously, I’ve not yet seen the film. I’ve heard comments on a spectrum from “it’s a great film” to “it’s basically an ITV drama.” So, I guess I’ll just have to see for myself!

17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Peterloo | almostginger.com
© Entertainment One

Those are the top 17 films set in Manchester (sorry, Salford!) you should watch before you visit. Have you seen any or visited Manchester before? Let me know in the comments below! 


Read next:

12 of the Best TV Shows set in Manchester, UK


17 Films Set in Manchester, UK to Watch Before Visiting including Yanks, There's Only One Jimmy Grimble, The Patrol Officer, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, Spike Island, Raining Stones, Peterloo, Looking for Eric, Hobson's Choice, Hell is a City, East is East, Control, Charlie Bubbles, Believe, A Taste of Honey, A Kind of Loving and 24 Hour Part People | Manchester films | British films | Films from North England | Visit Manchester | almostginger.com
© Vertigo Films

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