Exit Music (For A Film) #7: Why Liverpool is the heart of cinema

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Exit Music (For a Film)

The most talented film star from Merseyside is Liverpool itself argues Getintothis’ Vikki Gregorich.

Who is the greatest film star to come out of Merseyside?

There are many candidates.

It could be Rex Harrison, it could be Glenda Jackson. Maybe Daniel Craig.

All actors with the qualities needed to be a  good performer: imagination, emotional facility, physical expressiveness, the ability to transform, take you on a journey, suspend your disbelief.

But here we present the case that Liverpool itself might be the greatest actor our fair region has to offer.

Like a great actor, Liverpool has charisma.

It could use the iconic Liver Buildings in every scene, not to mention architecture with star quality such as the Albert Dock and  St Georges Hall.

But like a really great actor, Liverpool has depth too, often bringing out its lesser known beauty in film.

Here’s a brief sample of Liverpool’s on-screen roles.

Filming underway in Liverpool (Credit: Liverpool Film Office)

Both 51st State (2001) and Creed (2015) use Liverpool’s Anfield and Goodison Park, respectively, as venues

51st State, an action / comedy starring Samuel L Jackson as Elmo, a master chemist trying sell his formula for a new potent drug to Leopold Durant (Ricky Tomlinson). Durant gives Felix (Robert Carlyle) tickets for the Manchester United / Liverpool derby as payment for picking Elmo up from the airport, and the farce begins.

51st State is not considered one of the great cinema classics, but the exuberant, sweary energy that sporting-Liverpool has is captured beautifully.

You can watch 51st State it on YouTube.

 

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Creed, on the other hand, is widely considered to be a decent film, indeed the National Board of Review placed in the top ten films of 2015.

Creed follows Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) into a boxing career under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), his deceased father’s greatest opponent and friend.

Everton football ground and fans were used to create the atmosphere of an international boxing final to great effect.

You can watch Creed on Amazon Prime.

 

Where would Liverpool be without the Beatles?

The film Yesterday (2019) explores the idea of what the world would be like without the Beatles – a question that is is all the more loaded when you consider what Liverpool might be like with no Fab Four in its history.

Struggling singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) realises that he is the only person that can remember the songs of the Beatles after a global blackout.

In an attempt to remember the lyrics of Eleanor Rigby, Jack visits Liverpool, taking in Penny Lane and Strawberry Field, but Lime Street and “John Lennon” airport are also spotted.

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Although the concept is an interesting one, Yesterday follows a fairly standard romantic comedy plot, leaving a bland taste. It’s a real shame considering it’s director is the great Danny Boyle.

John Lennon does pop up, played by (an uncredited) Robert Carlyle, which begs the question…..Robert? Why are you so obsessed with Liverpool?

You can watch Yesterday on Now TV.

 

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) is a biographical drama following the romance of Hollywood heroine Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), based on his memoir of the same name.

Gloria Grahame was an Oscar-winning star of 1940s and 50s, her film appearances included It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Oklahoma! (1955). Her film and TV career stalled as she got older, and she increasingly embraced theatre, bringing her to the UK in the late 70s.

It was here that she met Peter Turner and they began a romance, even though they had a significant age difference (Grahame was 55, Turner was 26). When she was diagnosed with cancer, she requested to live with Peter’s family in Liverpool.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool subverts the usual narrative in many ways.

A romance between an older woman and younger man is rarely seen, nor presented so sensitively.

And rarely do we see some of the hidden gems of Liverpool, like the gorgeous terraces in Toxteth, the Liverpool Playhouse and the Philharmonic Dining Rooms.

You can watch Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool on BFI Player.

 

A true actor can transport you anywhere, so to show its true range, how does Liverpool do?

The architecture and historic sites, such as St. George’s Hall, the Georgian Quarter or the nineteenth century warehouses around Stanley Dock are so well preserved that they can double up for locations all over the world.

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Films like Florence Foster Jenkins (2016), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) all borrowed Liverpool to mimic New York.

Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Let Him Have It (1991) had Liverpool acting as London.

So far, so expected but you may be surprised to hear that Liverpool has  doubled for many more locations around the world.

’71 (2014) is a BAFTA nominated historical thriller starring Jack O’Connell as a soldier who is separated from his unit during the troubles in Belfast. Parts of Kirkdale and Picton were used to represent Belfast.

You can rent or buy ’71 on most streaming platforms.

 

The home of the summer Olympics in 1924 was Paris. Chariots of Fire (1981) is based on the true story of two athletes, Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleston) competing to achieve Olympic greatness and to overcome prejudice.

Liverpool Town Hall was used to represent the British Embassy in Paris, and the Oval Sports Centre in Bebington did a turn as the Colombes Olympic Stadium.

Eagle-eyed Liverpool fans will also see Woodside Ferry Terminal pretending to be Dover.

You can watch Chariots of Fire on most steaming platforms.

 

The biggest surprise is how often Liverpool has acted as Moscow, especially in Jack Ryan films.

The Hunt for Red October (1990) is a spy thriller, starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan. it shows a Russian Naval Captain attempting to defect to America with his nuclear submarine.

Although all of the submarine scenes were filmed on sound stages in Paramount studios, director John McTiernen decided to use Liverpool Town Hall and the surrounding buildings to recreate Moscow

More recently, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), this time starring Chris Pine as Ryan, used Water Street and the Strand for a nighttime car chase through Moscow.

Both The Hunt for Red October and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit are available on most steaming platforms.

 

It is always delightful to spot your home town in films, and Liverpool is clearly a contender for the most adaptable city-actor in the UK.

As the most-filmed city, lending its character to movies of all genres, Liverpool is at the heart of a an awful lot of great cinema.

What film did you spot Liverpool in?

 

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