Essex on the big screen
With areas as beautiful as a Hollywood leading lady or as gritty as the most-hard boiled thriller, Essex itself is no stranger to the big screen.The county has provided backdrops to some of the biggest film franchises of the past five decades.
So as we enter the BATFA’s and Oscar’s season, why not jump in the car, take a train or hop on a bus and tour around locations that have been used for famous movies?
The name’s Airport, London Southend Airport. Back in the Swinging Sixties the original terminal building featured in the classic Bond film, Goldfinger. In the famous scene, Goldfinger’s Rolls Royce is loaded onto a British United Air Ferries Carvair prior to the master villain’s flight to Geneva. Having tracked his quarry, Bond drives his iconic Aston Martin DB5 onto the airport’s apron before having it loaded into the huge plane’s belly and pursuing Goldfinger in Switzerland.
A short walk away is the superb 1935 restaurant, at the top of the Holiday Inn. Here you can enjoy terrific views across the bustling airport as you savour superb cooking using locally-sourced ingredients, whilst indulging your inner Bond villain.
Stansted Airport has also featured in a number of hit movies. A scene in Philomena – starring Steve Coogan and Judy Dench – was filmed inside the terminal while its exterior has doubled up as New York’s JFK in Bridget Jones’ Diary and the fictitious Gotham airport in the 2012 instalment of the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises.
It seems the producers of Batman movies are rather fond of Essex. Seven years before the Dark Knight scene was filmed, Coalhouse Fort in East Tilbury provided the setting for a Bhutanese prison, in which Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has hit rock- bottom before being sprung by Henri Ducard, played by Liam Neeson.
Built in 1870 to protect Victorian London from the threat of a French invasion, the fort is a fascinating place to visit during open days and special events. It stands in a pleasant green park, surrounded by a moat and can be reached by road and rail (East Tilbury station is approximately two miles away).
Tilbury’s docks also became Gotham City’s in Batman Begins.
Believe it or not, but Tilbury’s waterfront has also stood in for Venice. No, you did read that correctly. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the world’s favourite archaeologist is hunting for the Holy Grail and his adventure takes him into the heart of
Venice. Chased through the city by the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, Indy and his companion, Dr Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) jump onto a Riva launch and race away. The brilliant editing makes the viewer believe the intrepid duo are still in Italy but the industrial backdrop and cranes show eagle-eyed viewers that this is indeed Essex.
Tilbury returned to the silver screen last year, again in the guise of somewhere other than Essex. In Mr Holmes, Ian McKellen plays the celebrated sleuth on a trip to Japan, researching the medicinal properties of a rare herb. The port, from which he bids Mr Umezaki goodbye, is actually the London Cruise Terminal in Tilbury docks.
After stowing away from darkest Peru, Paddington Bear arrives at Tilbury on ship before climbing aboard a lorry bound for London.
And continuing its ability to adopt a broad range of alter-egos, Tilbury hit the headlines in 2014 when it formed the backdrop to Sacha Baron-Cohen’s comedy, Grimsby (2014).
The town’s Dock Road was given a make-under to resemble Grimsby during the 1980s. Props including a fake bus stop and phone box were added, while Tilbury Wines was rebranded Grimsby Fired Chicken and a tattoo studio was transformed into a store offering timber and mouldings.
In nearby Stanford-Le-Hope, the Broadview Transport Café on the A13 will be better known known by film buffs for being besieged by virus-infected zombies mutants in 28 Days Later, rather than famished truckers looking for a mug of tea and cheeky bacon sarnie.
Though it has been closed for over two decades, the Grade II-listed State Cinema in Grays is a remarkable example of British Art Deco architecture. In the late 1980s it achieved global fame as the Los Angeles cinema where Eddie (Bob Hoskins), Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) and the eponymous bunny, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, hide from the weasels.
However, Thurrock’s most famous on-screen appearance has to be the moving funeral scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral, one of the biggest–grossing British films of all time. St Clements Church in West Thurrock is dwarfed by the Proctor and Gamble works behind it, inspiring the director Mike Newell to say at the time: “I wanted the sense of a fine church lost forlornly in an industrial landscape. The location scouts really delivered the goods.”
Having called time on his career playing Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe immersed himself in projects as diverse as taking the lead role in Peter Shaffer’s play, Equus, and the 2012 Hammer Horror film, The Woman in Black. In the case of the latter, Radcliffe plays Arthur Cripps, a young lawyer who visits spooky Eel March Island (which is also cut off from the mainland by the tides) in order to arrange its sale after the death of its owner.
The production company spent two weeks filming on Osea Island, as the tides rose and fell over the mile-long Roman causeway. Located near Maldon, in the middle of the River Blackwater, Osea is just an hour and a half to reach from London – but be warned, it is privately owned. However, you can stay on what has been described as the Essex equivalent of Necker Island, by hiring one of the luxurious properties that dot Osea, from beachside cottages to the impressive Edwardian manor house itself.
Southend-on-Sea is also a celebrated movie destination. Every year, this vibrant and culturally rich town hosts not one but two independent film festivals. January each year sees the annual fright-fest that is Horror-on-Sea with around eighty feature films and shorts from across the globe. In the summer (May), its sibling, the Southend Film Festival, shows a wide variety of movies for all ages and tastes, with one or two world premieres for good measure.
To discover more ideas, destinations and stunning locations where you could make your own box office smash, have a scout around www.visitessex.com