Underground cinema

The Underground is a great place to use in a film. It’s an icon of the city, much like the Houses of Parliament or Tower Bridge. It’s something that thousands use daily. It has that slightly spooky air about it. And it’s instantly recognisable. All you need is an Underground sign and people know where you are.

Filming on the Tube, though, is not so easy. It runs from early in the morning to late at night, and the rest of the time is needed for maintenance work. Although there are plenty of abandoned Underground stations, most of them are wholly unsuitable for filming – they’ve been allowed to grow derelict and they’re on lines that are still in use (i.e. even if you find one in good condition, filming will be interrupted every couple of minutes by a train).

If you want to film on a regular station, you just need to find a preserved railway. Alas, the only preserved sections of Underground are the Epping-Ongar branch (formerly the outermost extremity of the Central Line) and Quainton Road (one time part of the Metropolitan Railway). Neither of these are exactly what you think of when you think “London Underground.” What you really need is an abandoned station, in good condition, not on a running like. Oh, hey, Aldwych, didn’t see you there.

Aldwych, pictured left, was a perfect filming location even when it was still in use. It was built at the end of a stubby little branch off the Piccadilly Line, served by a shuttle service from Holborn. It was never hugely patronised, and one of the two platforms was disused by the First World War. During the Second, the whole branch was closed and used as a safe house for part of the British Museum’s collection. In 1994, the whole branch was shut down for good. The building, carrying the original “Strand” name, is still visible on the Strand.

However, it’s kept maintained and makes an excellent filming location – the fact that London Underground tend not to modernise stations unless it’s necessary (a policy Yr. Humble Chronicler applauds) means that it can be dressed up to represent more-or-less any time period from 1907 to the present day. As I say, even before it closed, the branch was little used enough that the station could be used by film crews. These days, London Underground can even provide you with a 1972 Northern Line train kept on the line especially.

It’s appeared in The Krays (as Bethnal Green), Death Line (as Russell Square), Superman IV (as the Metropolis Subway), Patriot Games, V for Vendetta, Atonement, Creep and The Bank Job, among others.

If that’s not quite to your tastes, say you need something more modern, you could always take a short stroll down to Charing Cross. While (obviously) the Bakerloo and Northern platforms are still very much in use, the Jubilee Line used to terminate here. When the Jubilee Line extension was completed in 1999, it took a jag south to Waterloo from Westminster. Charing Cross was left as the only abandoned station on the whole Jubilee Line and, of course, it had its own stretch of line. It’s not quite as popular as a filming location (perhaps because the rest of the station is very busy), but it was used in Creep (again) and 28 Weeks Later.

Failing that, of course, supposing you want something bang up to date, you might try the Waterloo and City Line. This line is closed on Sundays, giving you a whole day to play with. The trouble is that the Waterloo and City Line looks rather different from the rest of the Tube, due to the fact that it was built as an extension of the London and South Western Railway and only became part of London Underground in 1994. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop the crew of Sliding Doors from filming there or, in 1940, the crew of On the Beat.

This sort of thing is not for everyone. Some aren’t so fussy about where they film. Some don’t mind dereliction and passing trains. So it was for the crew of Neverwhere, the cult fantasy series set below London. They managed to get the use of the long-closed Down Street station for a banqueting scene. During the Second World War this station, abandoned even then, was used by Winston Churchill before the Cabinet War Rooms were completed. Apparently, due to the lifts being out of use, government officials were dropped off by passing trains from Green Park or Hyde Park Corner. Thus was it for Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman (the writer) talks about flagging down trains when filming was over. Unfortunately, Down Street is no longer allowed to be used for filming, and is strictly for emergency access only.

Kudos to An American Werewolf in London for actually filming at Tottenham Court Road, by the way.

So, what about Die Another Day? That was a pretty prominent appearance by an abandoned Tube station, right? Wrong. But that will have to wait for another time…

Further Reading

http://underground-history.co.uk/creep/ – An analysis of the locations used in Creep. The home page has a lot of interesting info about closed stations and bits of stations, as well as a photo of the train kept on the Aldwych branch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYD44UMtNh8 – Footage of Aldwych shortly before closure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q4uMNTEgDs – Footage of a preserved Tube train on the Jubilee Line, including a shot of the Jubilee Line platforms.



Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Film and TV, History, London, London Underground, London's Termini, The City, Transport, Waterloo and Southwark, West End

4 responses to “Underground cinema

  1. solar penguin

    Wow! Someone else who’s seen Neverwhere. I thought I was the only one!

    Anyway, it also made use of Aldwych as well as the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras, the old Crossness pumping engines and an abandoned pedestrian underpass at Crystal Palace.

    I’d love a definitive map of all the locations used in it. But if we’re the only two people who’ve even seen it, there’s not much chance of that…

    • TGW

      It’s out on DVD after God knows how many years – the book is hugely popular, and fans were clamouring for the series that started it all. One location mentioned in the extras is the old Post Office underground line, which I keep meaning to write about. Battersea Power Station makes an appearance as the site of the first Floating Market (it was supposed to be in the basement of Harrods, hence the fact that they pass through “Night’s Bridge” to get there, but permission was not granted) and HMS Belfast is the site of the second.
      Other than that, I fear there’s little information readily available. IMDb is useless.

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