The Movie Buff’s Guide to Islington, part 1 of 3
Islington has a rich history in film and is used in many modern movies. Jaime Pond, editor of Anglonerd magazine, has compiled three self-guided walking tours through this London borough: The Clerkenwell Tour, the Upper Street Tour, and the Highbury Tour. Whether you take the tours separately or all in one go, you better get your walking shoes on, movie buffs! (You can also take this tour virtually with Google Maps.)
The Clerkenwell Tour
“Islington” is mentioned in the opening monologue of the 2005 movie V for Vendetta, so it is only appropriate that we start our walking tour at Farringdon train station, where a young Evey can be seen handing out leaflets in a V for Vendetta flashback. You can easily get here on the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, or Circle lines of the tube. But beware, according to ghost-story.co.uk, it’s haunted by the ghost of Anne Naylor!
Not convinced? Okay, let’s get out of the station and head east on Cowcross Street. On your way toward St. John Street, you’ll pass the intersection of Cowcross and Greenhill Rents where Jude Law’s character lived in Closer, the 2004 Mike Nichols drama. It’s that blue door where the Subway sandwich shop is now (4 Cowcross St.). Hang a left onto St. John Street and follow the left fork where St. John Street turns into St. John’s Lane. Walk until you see St. John’s Gate, an archway more than 500 years old that houses the Museum of the Order of St. John. It has a long history of knights, the Crusades, medicine, and the Olympics, but most importantly, it’s where you saw Michael Palin riding a motorbike shortly after a heist in A Fish Called Wanda. Speaking of that heist, let’s follow the footsteps—or tire tracks—of Jamie Lee Curtis (Wanda) as she makes her big getaway! Continue north (it’s important you’re doing this on foot, as cars can’t go through the archway) and take a left onto Clerkenwell Road, then the first right onto Clerkenwell Green, and another left onto Clerkenwell Cl. It’s here, across from Crown Tavern Pub (43 Clerkenwell Green), that our heroes/villains jumped into the getaway car, nearly bowling over the unlucky elderly lady and her fleet of yappy dogs.
Don’t worry, we won’t let Wanda and company get away, but first, have a look around the corner on Clerkenwell Green at the old Clerkenwell House of Detention, a disused prison that has been featured in several films, including the new Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, posing for the hero’s and the heroine’s homes. It’s also where Cary Mulligan’s character was force-fed in the 2015 bio pic of Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette.
Speaking of being fed, let’s stick our heads into the Crown Tavern while we’re here for a pint or a meal. They’ll do you everything from a burger to a quintessentially British meal like fish & chips or shepherd’s pie. Upstairs, you may recognize the “Apollo Lounge” where Judi Dench was seen in the 2006 film Notes on a Scandal. History nerds will enjoy knowing that, allegedly, Stalin and Lenin first met here in 1903 when the pub was called the Crown and Anchor.
Once sufficiently nourished, let’s flag down a cab to help with the illusion that we are in the chase scene from A Fish Called Wanda. Say, “Cabbie, take me to the alley at the end of Clerkenwell Close, as quick as you can!”
One minute later, your cabbie is annoyed that it was such a short fare. You are equally surprised that Wanda and company had such a brief escape before ditching the car. Well, you might as well stay in the taxi. Ask your cabbie to take you to Northampton Square.
You may not have seen the 2008 film Incendiary, starring Ewan McGregor and Michelle Williams, but if you have, you’ll want to spend a while wandering Northampton Square because most of the film was shot right here! The director, Bridget Jones’s Diary’s Sharon Maguire, uses her alma matter City University, on the west side of the Square, as the exterior shot for a hospital, and Michelle Williams’ character apparently lives on the Brunswick Estate (posing for the Wellington Estate farther east). If you haven’t seen the film, maybe give it a rent before heading out. A rare chance to run around the set of an entire movie without having to leave the block!
It’s a ten minute saunter from Northhampton Square to Myddelton Square Garden (though you can hop the 153 bus if your dogs are barking). Here, you’ll find St. Mark’s Church, a setting for Suffragette. Near here, Barbara Riddell allowed Meryl Streep to use her balcony for a scene, and she provided the cast and crew with food for the three-day shoot. In an article on the Islington Film Office website, Riddell remembers, “Carey Mulligan couldn’t eat my biscuits as she was going to do the force-feeding scene the next day.”
Now we’ll walk down River Street, which turns into Lloyd Baker Street, around the site of Ruby Film and Television, an Islington-based film production company. Hang a right and go to the north side of Lloyd Square where you’ll find the house Gary Oldman’s character lived in in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). Next, we’re going to zig-zag northeast to Claremont Square, which harbors the Order of the Pheonix’s headquarters in Harry Potter at the south side of the Square. Continue up the east side of the Square to Pentonville and make a right. Follow this road a few blocks and turn left onto Islington High Street where we begin our Upper Street tour. Stay tuned for the next installment!