Film buff? Take a stroll from Soho Square to Westminster Bridge and immerse yourself in the capital’s cinematic cultural highlights…
Soho is alive with cinema, old and new. It’s the working centre of the British film industry, and a stop-off point on the Hollywood circuit as films get a final special-effects polish in London. Even more importantly, it’s something of a living movie set, as so many films have been shot in the area over the decades.
Square by the Statue of Charles II. The statue used to be owned by the dramatist WS Gilbert, and director Mike Leigh has spoken about how he used to touch its worn-out toe each morning in the late 1990s on the way to his Greek Street office when trying to raise funds for ‘Topsy-Turvy’ (1999), his film about Gilbert & Sullivan. On the west side of the square is the British Board of Film Classification, where every film released in UK cinemas is seen by examiners who decide what rating to give it. Meanwhile, in the south-west corner of the square is the UK HQ of 20th Century Fox, one of the world’s biggest movie studios.
Cut through the west side of the square to Dean Street and cross over, through an alleyway and another small street and on to Wardour Street, home to the largest concentration of the country’s film companies, then walk south towards Old Compton Street. On your right is D’Arblay Street, location of the Soho Screening Rooms, where the city’s film critics hide themselves from the light to see films long before they reach public cinemas.
Continue down Wardour Street and at the corner with Brewer Street turn right. Shortly on your right is Walkers Court, mainly home to a different sort of cinema, of the X-rated sort. At 11 Walkers Court is the The Box Soho, which from 1958 to 2004 was Raymond’s Revue Bar. Its owner, Paul Raymond, is the subject of Michael Winterbottom’s ‘King of Soho’, which was shot on these streets this year and stars Steve Coogan. It should arrive in cinemas in the autumn.
Turn left down Rupert Street and you’ll come to Shaftesbury Avenue. Turn right, and on your left is Great Windmill Street, previously home to the Windmill Theatre, which was the subject of Stephen Frears’s ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ (2005). Continue along Shaftesbury Avenue and where it meets Piccadilly Circus is the spot where the beast terrifies audiences at a sex cinema in ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (1981). Across the circus at No 224 is the Criterion Restaurant which pops up as a location in ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008).
Cross from Piccadilly Circus into Leicester Square. Currently a building site, the centre section of the square should reopen soon and allow the Odeon Leicester Square to become Europe’s leading venue for world premieres again. The opening and closing nights of the London Film Festival are held here every autumn. Emerge on to Charing Cross Road, the street which inspired the book that became the film ‘84 Charing Cross Road’ (1987) as well as the earlier 1935 film ‘Charing Cross Road’. Slightly further north, roughly opposite Foyles is a block of flats, Phoenix House, where Derek Jarman lived. Both filmmaker and his home appeared in his 1987 film ‘The Angelic Conversation’.
Cross over from Charing Cross Road to St Martin’s Lane and walk down towards Trafalgar Square. On the right at No 90 is The Salisbury, which pops up in Basil Dearden’s 1961 film ‘Victim’, with Dirk Bogarde. Across the road is New Row, the alleyway which is home to the fictitious Silver Fox nightclub in Jules Dassin’s 1950 noir classic ‘Night and the City’. Also on St Martin’s Lane is the St Martin’s Lane Hotel (No 45) where Daniel Craig was filmed in Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Layer Cake’ (2004).
Continue down St Martin’s Lane and you’ll come to Trafalgar Square, home last year to the premiere of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two’. Stand in the middle and look towards the left corner of Whitehall and you’ll see an office that featured as a key location in ‘The Ipcress File’ (1965). Walk down Whitehall and look back at Trafalgar Square. This is exactly the view you get of the square in Hitchcock’s ‘Blackmail’ (1929). It’s one of nine early Hitchcock films being restored by the BFI and will have a premiere this summer at the British Museumas part of the Cultural Olympiad. Finally, it’s down Whitehall to Westminster Bridge, one of the many landmarks in London featured in Danny Boyle’s ‘28 Days Later’ (2002), his utopian vision of a manageably populated, traffic-free city. Dave Calhoun