Villain (Michael Tuchner, 1971)
The most intriguing discovery in Kentish Town’s filmic A to Z is a movie I had previously never heard of. Villain is Dick Clement’s and Ian La Frenais’ thinly veiled take on the Ronnie Kray story starring Richard Burton. And this remarkable photo is of Mr and Mrs Burton at the bar of Assembly House on Kentish Town Road, where the pub scenes were all filmed; in between takes Elizabeth Taylor was known to pull pints for the cast and crew.
Venus (Roger Mitchell, 2006)
No film showcases as much of Kentish Town as Hanif Kureishi’s portrait of horny old actor Maurice (Peter O’Toole) whose best mate’s great-niece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) sets his ageing ticker a-flutter. Maurice’s flat is 61 Athlone Street while pal Leslie Phillips lives at Heathview Apartments on Gordon House Road. The Cabin Cafe on Willes Road is where the pair hangout. Maurice persuades Jessie to model at a life drawing class at Westminster Kingsway College on Holmes Road (now the French School) and buys her earrings at Dawson & Briant on Kentish Town Road (now the much less attractive Albemarle). The pawn shop also features in Woody Allen’s execrable Cassandra’s Dream.
Backbeat (Iain Softley, 1996)
Where better to re-create the fleshpots of Hamburg than our corner of north London? That’s not the Reeperbahn where the Fab Five make their debut in Iain Softley’s re-telling of Beatles: The Early Years. The Top Ten Club is actually The Dome in Tufnell Park. Another ‘Hamburg’ location, the cinema where Stu Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff) and Astrif Kircherr (Sheryl Lee) watch Les Enfants Terribles, is the Odeon on Parkway. The other nearby location you’ll glimpse in Backbeat is Berthold Lubetkin’s modernist masterwork, the Highpoint. The 1930s apartment block in Highgate doubles as the ‘Polydor Record Company’ in the film.
High Hopes, Career Girls & Happy Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)
Mike Leigh, our city’s most prolific cinematic chronicler, has regularly turned his lense towards postcodes beginning with N. Closest to Kentish Town are the two flats in Career Girls. When we’re introduced to Annie (Lynda Steadman) and Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge), Hannah’s living in the top floor flat at 72 Caversham Road. The film flashes back to their student digs at 40 Rousden Street near Camden Road. One of the most memorable moments in High Hopes is the scene where Cyril and Shirley (Phil Davies and Ruth Sheen) pay their respects to Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetry and in Happy Go-Lucky Sally Hawkins endures many exclamations of “En-Ra-Ha!” during driving lessons from Eddie Marsan around Tufnell Park.
Notes on a Scandal (Richard Eyre, 2006)
You know the area’s getting gentrified when Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett make films here. Actually, while you see Kentish Town Road and Royal College Street in the film and the Gospel Oak bridge is noticeable, Richard Eyre shot most of Notes on a Scandal on the periphery of Kentish Town. Still, many locations are familiar. The house of Blanchett’s character, Sheba, is at 20 Upper Park Road in Belsize Park while her confidante/nemesis Dench’s residence just nudges into Zone 3 at 2 Wembury Road. ‘St George’s High School’ is Islington Arts and Media School (formerly Tollington Park Secondary School) in Stroud Green.
Other productions shot in the area include Monty Python and The Holy Grail, whose opening scene (with the coconuts) is on Hampstead Heath. Before Damien’s true nature reveals itself in The Omen, his ‘parents’ take him on a stroll up Parliament Hill and in the largely forgotten Bad Behaviour (Les Blair, 1993), Sinead Cussack’s character Ellie works at our beloved Owl Bookshop.