Home > Films > D > Dance With A Stranger

Tuesday September 25th 2018

Dance With A Stranger | 1985

Dance With A Stranger filming location: The Three Kings, Clerkenwell, London
Dance With A Stranger filming location: the shooting at the ‘Magdala’: The Three Kings, Clerkenwell, London

Straightforward but affecting account of the case of Ruth Ellis (Miranda Richardson), who, in 1955, became the last woman to be hanged for murder in Britain, after shooting her wastrel upper class boyfriend David Blakely (Rupert Everett).

Set in the Fifties, the street exteriors were mostly filmed in tight close-up to avoid the necessity of extensive period dressing.

Dance With A Stranger filming location: Wellington Court, Park Close, Knightsbridge, London
Dance With A Stranger filming location: Blakely is introduced to Ruth Ellis in the nightclub: Wellington Court, Park Close, Knightsbridge, London

The entrance to the nightclub ("These places are glorified brothels...") where the sadly devoted Desmond Cussen (Ian Holm) introduces Blakely to “the glorified brothel keeper” Ellis, is the side entrance to the grand Wellington Court, in the tiny passageway of Park Close, Knightsbridge.

The country pub to which the snobbish Blakely drives Ellis is at Hambleden, a few miles southwest of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. The picturesque village was seen in the live-action 1996 film of 101 Dalmatians, the disastrous 1998 big-screen version of cult TV series The Avengers, with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes and as the fairytale village in Rob Marshall's 2014 film of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods.

Dance With A Stranger: Magdala Tavern, South Hill Park, London NW3
Dance With A Stranger: the site of the real murder (not seen in the film): Magdala Tavern, South Hill Park, London NW3

In reality, David Blakeley was gunned down outside the Magdala Tavern, 2a South Hill Park, NW3, alongside Hampstead Heath railway station. The pub still exists. It’s now a mix – one bar very much a traditional bar, the other spruced up into a rather good gastropub. The more ghoulish of you may relish viewing the bullet holes still visible in its tiled frontage.

Despite claims to the contrary, though, the Magdala is not used for the film. Its exterior is not particularly photogenic, and the movie substitutes the more traditionally ‘pubby’ Three Kings, 7 Clerkenwell Close, Clerkenwell, where Ellis lurks with her pistol behind the railings of St James Church. Part bar, part quirky art gallery, the funky Three Kings has a laidback studenty feel to it, with folk nights and occasional poetry readings. That’s a recommendation or a warning, according to taste.

With a fascinating history of radicalism, (Lenin edited the Bolshevik newspaper Iskra here), Clerkenwell has been gentrified into one of the city’s artsy enclaves. Many of the locations of About A Boy can be found in the area.