Filming In the East End of London

The George Tavern Over the years, the East End of London has provided an excellent backdrop to gangster movies such as Performance, The Long Good Friday, The Krays and, most recently, Legend.

But if you think that’s all the East End is good for you’d be mistaken.

Films such as From Hell, Trance, Spider and Made In Dagenham illustrate the area’s ability to depict both period and modern, poverty and affluence. More recently, Brick Lane, My Brother The Devil and The Comedian show how the East End of Bob Hoskins’ crime boss Harold Shand (The Long Good Friday) has given way to a racially and sexually diverse community.

The East End is also a magnet for TV drama, with shows like Luther, Whitechapel and Call The Midwife all having filmed there. Most recently Sky’s flagship drama Stan Lee's Lucky Man, starring James Nesbitt, shot on locations in Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
 

Stan Lee's Lucky Man

Film London CEO Adrian Wootton says “a number of factors have come together over the last decade to make the East End of London really interesting to film and TV producers. One is the growth of 3 Mills Studios.

"Another is the ambition of the local boroughs, which want to participate in the production boom that the city has seen. And then there is the diversity of locations. In particular, a lot of producers are attracted by the industrial sites that can be easily dressed for production.”
 

3 Mills

Situated in Lee Valley, 3 Mills has played host to a wide range of movies including Mr Holmes, Legend, The Inbetweeners 1 and 2, London Fields and Fantastic Mr Fox. Add to this TV credits like Jekyll & Hyde, The Royals and The Enfield Haunting, “and they have built a really healthy business that provides an excellent base for productions in the East End,” says Wootton. 

“I think 3 Mills has proved a real asset to leading filmmakers like Danny Boyle and Mike Leigh. In fact Danny is part of a growing community of creatives who live and work in the East End. That has also added to the growing appeal of the region.”

In terms of boroughs, Wootton says: “Tower Hamlets, which recently hosted The Danish Girl, is currently the second most active borough in London after Westminster – which shows the growing ambition of the east.” 

Also active are Hackney and Barking & Dagenham, which has hosted Luther, Hustle, Murphy’s Law and, perhaps surprisingly, Poirot: “Barking has a very film-friendly council that can see the economic benefits of getting involved in less traditional businesses like film and TV.”
 

The Danish Girl

While industrial spaces and authentic, ‘ungentrified’ streets are a key part of the locations appeal of east London, a few films in recent years have also showcased some of the area’s architectural gems.

Depending on your definition of the East End, for example, you could argue that the 2015 movie Suffragette shot a scene there. The scene in question was filmed in Myddleton Square, just near the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in EC1. If that’s stretching definitions a little too far, then there is also Danny Boyle’s Trance, which used the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. Meanwhile, Mike Leigh’s acclaimed period film Mr Turner shot one scene at the Theatre Royal in Stratford East.

Speaking to Film London about the job, location manager Henry Woolley said: “We looked at many theatres, both in London and around the country. But it was serendipitous that Stratford was both perfect visually and dark for the period we needed.” Not only that, adds Woolley, “but the theatre really went out of their way to understand what we needed and to help us find the best way of achieving it”.

 

Mr Turner

 

Not to be overlooked either is East London’s proximity to the City Of London and Canary Wharf. “People will differ in opinion over whether the City and Canary Wharf are part of the East End or not,” says Wootton, “but a number of films shoot across two or three of these areas.

"All filmmakers need to be aware of is that permission to film in the City is managed by the City Of London Corporation while permission for Canary Wharf is handled by the private company that owns the estate.”
Other iconic sites that can be used as the backdrop for movies include The Thames Barrier, Tilbury Docks, the O2 and The Excel Centre. 
 

Canary Wharf

In terms of other developments that are making the East End more interesting for film and TV producers, Wootton points to the Olympic Park and Here East, the new name for what was previously the media centre for the 2012 summer Olympics.

“The Park attracts numerous enquiries from filmmakers interested in working there,” says Wootton, “and Here East is establishing itself as an important hub for creative industry. All of this will appeal to creatives that are looking for an affordable and attractive headquarters to locate their production.”
 

East London locations

Farmiloe Building 
Located by Smithfield Market, this ornate Victorian warehouse doubled for Gotham City in the recent Batman movie franchise. Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes and TV adaptations of Poirot and Marple have also filmed here.
 

Smithfield Market

 

The George Tavern

Located in the heart of east London, The George Tavern featured in acclaimed Netflix drama Sense8. Not only did it provide a pub, the rooms above allowed the production to create a further three sets. Other shoots at the George have included the Sally Potter film Ginger & Rosa, MTV Bang, Plan B's iLL Manors, Channel 4's The Morgana Show as well as photo shoots with Kate Moss, Grandmaster Flash, Justin Timberlake, Adrien Brody, Grace Jones and Nick Cave.


Broadway Market, Hackney 
This was the location for David Cronenberg's 2007 film Eastern Promises and also for the opening scenes of the 1988 train robbery movie Buster. Go back further and it also featured in the 1947 film Odd Man Out.
 

Searcy's Restaurant, The Gherkin
This plush venue, halfway between Bank and Aldgate, featured in Thor: The Dark World. Speaking to Film London, location manager Tom Crooke said: “There are few buildings in London more instantly recognisable and universally appreciated than the Gherkin” Other films shot here have included Red 2, Match Point and Basic Instinct 2.


The Gherkin

 

De Beauvoir Estate 
Located in Hackney, this estate was built in the 1960s and has just been used for series four of the BBC’s Luther. Speaking to Film London, Rebecca Staffolani of Hackney Film Office said it is “no stranger to filming, and with its range of low and high rise buildings and underground car parks, it's always been popular with film crews." Other TV and film projects to visit include 28 Weeks Later, River, Silent Witness, A Street Cat Named Bob, and various music videos and TV commercials. 
 

Canary Wharf
The Canary Wharf estate featured in crime thriller All Things to All Men, the directorial debut from George Isaac (Kidulthood, Adulthood). Location manager Richard George says, “for sequences involving a high speed car chase through London at night, Canary Wharf offered a sleek, modern vision of London”. Other recent films using Canary Wharf and/or Wood Wharf include Welcome to the Punch, Skyfall and The Counsellor. All location fees are donated by to charity.
 

Shacklewell Lane Mosque, Dalston 
This highly recognisable mosque featured in the gritty gangster film Snow in Paradise. Set in various Hackney and Tower Hamlets locations, the film focuses on a gangster who converts to Islam. That’s a far cry from the days of Harold Shand and The Long Good Friday.

Dorset Estate
For a recent McDonald's commercial, the production team turned to Dorset Estate in Tower Hamlets as its key location. Featuring the lives of people living on the same estate, the ad explores a community that lives close together but worlds apart. The estate has been a popular location and used for various feature films, such as Children of Men and TV dramas including Silent Witness and Hunted in recent years.

Have you had experience filming in the East End? Let us know via Facebook or Twitter.
 



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