Manchester has long acted as a cinematic backdrop to some of the best British drama to make it onto celluloid – here’s our list of some of the city’s most popular film locations.
Manchester has long been a popular spot for film and TV programme makers – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that both the BBC and Granada have had bases here for more than half a century. A minimum of twenty five TV programmes are shot in and around the region’s streets and venues every year, while whole neighbourhoods have provided the backdrop for a wide range of dramas: Queer As Folk (Gay Village), Cutting It (Deansgate and surrounds) and Shameless (West Gorton) are just a few examples. The Northern Quarter, on the other hand, was completely remodelled to look like 1940s New York – all for a 30 second car chase sequence in Captain America (2011). These are just a few of the places in Manchester that have been used to represent somewhere totally different: we investigate the city’s most desirable locations and discover the impressive number of productions they have played host to.
Manchester Town Hall
Albert Square’s magnificent Gothic masterpiece has doubled for the Houses of Parliament countless times, partly because filming for TV shows or feature films isn’t generally permitted in the London venue. Most recently seen in The Iron Lady (2011), for which Meryl Streep won Best Actress for her performance as Margaret Thatcher, Manchester Town Hall also stood in for the Commons in Guy Ritchie’s dynamically-shot film Sherlock Homes (2009), in which Robert Downey Jr. gives a rakish turn as the famous detective. The BBC’s iconic drama House of Cards (1990), starring Ian Richardson as wheeler-dealer Tory chief whip Francis Urquhart, is set almost entirely in the House of Commons: it used the Town Hall for all of its interior scenes. In 1994, Conan Doyle’s collected stories The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes was made into a TV series: “The Mazarin Stone” episode saw the Town Hall double as the Whitehall Museum. Finally, the downstairs space has been used to host BBC1’s long-running Antiques Roadshow several times over the years.
Located south of the city centre, the beautiful Victoria Baths first opened in 1906. Over a century later, they were used for two scenes in ITV’s drama about the Great Train Robber’s better half, Mrs Biggs (2012). The offices where the future Charmian Biggs (played by Sheridan Smith) works when she first meets Ronnie were shot in Victoria Baths’ wood-panelled rooms – the baths’ celebrated stained-glass window is clearly visible. Ronnie also appears at the empty swimming pool, in the scene where he tells a friend about the girl (Charmian) he met on a train. The pool (full this time) was also where Sherlock and Watson confronted Moriarty at the end of series one of Sherlock in 2010. The hit remake, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, leaves its audience on a cliff-hanger stand off with Sherlock’s nemesis. Even before the restoration of Victoria Baths, which began in 2003, its dilapidated state meant it was in demand as a location – back in 1991 it was used for the execution scenes in the very first series of Prime Suspect.
Heaton Hall & Heaton Park
An historic Grade II-listed stately home and gardens in north Manchester, Heaton Hall has made an appearance in several films. As long ago as 1981 it was used as a backdrop location in the classic TV series Brideshead Revisited, starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. The BBC3 drama Casanova, which cast David Tennant as the young lothario and Peter O’Toole as his older self, was also shot at the Hall. Its rooms were used for many of the film’s interiors including Tennant’s sauciest bedroom scenes. Aforementioned drama Mrs Biggs used Heaton Park for several scenes, including one where the gang bundle a man into a van – the colonnaded Temple can be seen clearly. Finally, Heaton Hall was a location for both TV drama Island At War and comedy film Von Trapped, starring Caroline Quentin, in which the park doubled for the countryside around Salzburg.
Stockport Plaza and Air Raid Shelter
Right at the heart of Stockport, Stockport Plaza is a lovingly restored Art Deco cinema and theatre – and has also proven a popular location for film shoots. First opened in 1932, the Grade II-listed Plaza underwent a full restoration, costing more than £3 million, in 2009; among its original features is a fully operational (and extremely rare) Compton Cinema Organ. Victoria Wood’s 2011 BBC drama, Eric and Ernie, about the start of Morecambe and Wise’s long career, used the Plaza to film early scenes where the teenage comics audition and first meet each other before deciding to team up. The network of air raid shelters next door, which was Britain’s largest purpose-built system when it opened in 1939, was also used for the film’s wartime scenes. The shelters also featured in Yanks (1979), in which Richard Gere plays a gifted mess hall cook.
The East Lancashire Steam Railway
Danny Boyle, Manchester’s Oscar-winning film director, shot his low-budget film, Millions (2004) in locations all over the North West, but the central scene in this comedy crime caper centres around a train robbery – and was filmed on the steam trains that run along the 12-mile track between Greater Manchester’s Heywood Station and Rawtenstall in Lancashire. The tracks have also been featured in long-running TV soap Coronation Street, BBC dramas Eric and Ernie and Ashes to Ashes as well as Granada’s Cracker. And in 1950’s BBC drama, Born and Bred, about assorted families in a small Lancashire town, the station was often the centre of storylines – filming took place at the Ramsbottom station and featured East Lancashire Railway vintage steam trains.
Manchester’s concert halls and former Wesleyan chapels serve up folky treats in the form of Lau, Jesca Hoop, The Unthanks and more over the coming months. We also explore all things classical from Manchester Camerata and the BBC Philharmonic – and start looking ahead to next year’s festival season.