Mary Poppins Returns | 2018
Following up the beloved Sixties classic was always going to be a tall order and if Rob Marshall’s sequel doesn’t quite match up to the original, at least it respects the style from the oil painting opening credits to the old-school hand-drawn animation and the casting of an American as the lovable Cockney.
Unlike the 1964 film of Mary Poppins, which was filmed entirely on Disney’s stages in Burbank, California, Mary Poppins Returns was not only made in the UK but even uses some real London locations.
Unfortunately, these don’t include ‘!7 Cherry Tree Lane’, the threatened home of the grown-up Banks siblings, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) and widowed Michael’s three children, which was a huge set built on H Stage at Shepperton Studios.
There are plenty of practical locations seen during the opening number, Underneath the Lovely London Sky, as lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) cycles around in the early morning turning off the gas streetlights.
Starting at a digitally enhanced Thames Embankment, across the River Thames from the Houses of Parliament, Jack’s route is predictably picturesque if not geographically coherent.
From the Embankment, opposite Westminster, he’s immediately in the East End, on Blossom Street in Spitalfields, northeast of Liverpool Street Station.
Spitalfields was once a notoriously poor area and, being near to the old port, became home to various immigrant communities.
Many streets of 18th Century terraced houses remain virtually unchanged making this an ideal location for period movies – scenes for Suffragette were recently filmed here.
After decades of neglect, the neighbourhood was ‘discovered’ and it has now become impossibly gentrified.
Blossom Street itself is currently off-limits for a major redevelopment, though the side of the street seen in the film appears to have been spared.
Jack cycles past the Two Chairmen pub, 39 Dartmouth Street at Queen Anne's Gate, SW1, which is not only claimed to be the oldest pub in Westminster but, being so close to the seat of government, has been the site of various political machinations.
It’s East again, to pass the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral where there’s a quick acknowledgment for the Bird Lady from the original film.
Finally, we get to the environs of the Banks family and the park alongside their house, which is the famous garden at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.
This has made countless screen appearances over the years – seen in everything from Norman Wisdom comedies to Bond movies.
Faced with losing his home, Michael Banks is obliged to plead his case to bank chairman Mr Wilkins (Colin Firth).
The classical pillared frontage of the ‘Fidelity Fiduciary Bank’ seen is that of the old Royal Exchange Building, which stands opposite the Bank of England in the area of the city appropriately called Bank, EC3.
There’s been a financial exchange on this site since the 16th Century. The current building, which used to house the Stock Exchange, dates 1844. After having fallen into a state of disrepair, it has now been renovated to house cafes, bars and shops.
Which is why we don’t see the Exchange’s real interior, although the vast art deco bank lobby is not far away at all.
It’s the glorious art deco Banking Hall, 14 Cornhill, London EC3, which stands directly across Cornhill from the Exchange. It's the real thing, dating from the 1930s, and was HQ of Lloyd's Bank until 2002. You might recognise it again as the lobby of the 'Los Angeles' hotel where Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) is humiliatingly informed that her suite has been ‘released’ in Rupert Goold's 2019 Judy.
If you’re planning a big do – and I mean big – this Grade II-listed building is now an upscale events space.
Hoping to help with the family finances, the children decide to get a cracked, and potentially valuable, Royal Doulton bowl mended. When Mary (Emily Blunt) decides that her cousin is the best person for the job, we’re taken into the very heart of London's West End.
The dark alleyway leading ‘Topotrepolovsky’s fix-it-shop’ (with Meryl Streep sending up her penchant for accents) can be found alongside Thai Pot restaurant on Bedfordbury at Chandos Place, WC2, between Charing Cross and Covent Garden.
It's Brydges Place, which runs behind the historic The Marquis pub. Nothing like as cute as it appears in the film, you might recognise it as the lane that Henry Golding tells Emilia Clark is "the narrowest in London" in 2019 weepie Last Christmas (it's actually the second narrowest).
As soon Mary and co enter Brydges Place, there's a cut to a different passageway, though it's not too far away.
The far more picturesque passage, with those beautiful bow-fronted windows, is Goodwin's Court a little further north on Bedfordbury. And just to complicate matters, Mary and co are now travelling in the opposite direction – towards Bedfordbury.
The tiny door to the 'fix-it' shop was built across the eastern exit of the court, underneath that Bedfordbury sign.
This same stretch of Goodwin's Court was also the location of the seedy 'Silver Fox' nightclub in dark and gritty 1950 film noir Night And The City, with Richard Widmark.
On the way back from Topsy’s, Mary and the children, carefully balanced on Jack’s top-heavy bike, spy Jane walking along Cowley Street, SW1, tucked away in the backstreets of Westminster (not too far from the Two Chairmen).
Not surprisingly, this is an area rich in history – as well as just rich.
If you’re visiting, check out 16 Cowley Street, which bears a Blue Plaque commemorating it as the former home of the great Shakespearian actor – and Arthur’s foul-mouthed butler – Sir John Gielgud. The imposing house in the background of the shot, once home to the Bishop of London, stands on Barton Street and a few doors down, at 14 Barton Street another plaque marks the one-time residence of TE Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia.
There’s cinematic history on Barton Street, too, with a brace of Sherlock Holmes movies. 3 Barton Street became the ‘221b Baker Street’ home of the great ‘tec (Christopher Plummer) in Bob Clark’s 1979 Murder By Decree, while 9 Barton Street was also ‘221b’, but this time as the home of mastermind Dr Watson (Ben Kingsley) who hires a drunken actor (Michael Caine) to become Holmes, in Without A Clue – the 1988 film which cheekily reverses the roles of the two characters.
In the opposite direction, as Jack cycles off with Jane along Lord North Street, the handsome church facing them is St John’s Smith Square, which you might have seen in Joe Wright’s 2007 film of Ian McEwan’s Atonement.
Having to make their own way home on foot, Mary and the kids end up lost in the fog and the dark. They’re rescued after the sudden appearance of Jack, sitting atop an elaborate wrought-iron gate. Despite appearances, this is a real location and not a studio set.
You can find the gate on Devereux Court, part of the Middle Temple complex south of the Strand, EC4. This quiet, olde worlde centre of the legal profession takes its name from the Knights Templar, and the Temple Church itself is importantly featured in both the book and film of The Da Vinci Code.
Much of the subsequent Trip a Little Light Fantastic number is filmed in this complex of little squares and tiny passageways, beginning with Jack leading the dance atop the wall on the west side of Middle Temple Lane and onto the lane’s colonnade.
The tiled passageway where the ‘Leeries’ hang from the glass ceiling to attend to the hanging lamps is here but tough to find. It leads from the northwest corner of Essex Court to 222 Strand.
Of course, once they all descend into the ground, that’s a studio set.
The film’s climax sees the Leeries hopping onto their bicycles to head for Big Ben and an attempt to “turn back time”.
They start out from Middle Temple Lane, exiting through the astonishingly elaborate carved-stone archway onto Embankment, and then to King Charles Street, Westminster, SW1.
This is nowhere near, but it looks good. King Charles Street runs west from Whitehall, the centre of government and, almost literally, a stone’s throw from the PM’s residence in Downing Street. This is becoming the go-to spot for street racing – see Fast and Furious 6.
Their destination is Big Ben – well, not really. Big Ben is more accurately the name of the giant bell which tolls the hour.
The clocktower is commonly called Big Ben, but properly is properly the Elizabeth Tower and was, of course, mocked up in the studio for the film.
The climactic scene echoes that of the 1978 film of The Thirty-Nine Steps, which sees Richard Hannay (Robert Powell) hanging from a finger of the clock – though Hannay didn’t have Mary Poppins to help him.
* Many thanks to Chris Harry for help with this section