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Monday April 22nd 2024

Brazil | 1985

Brazil location: Palacio d'Abraxas, Noisy-le-Grand, France
Brazil location: The chase through Lowry's apartment complex: Palacio d'Abraxas, Noisy-le-Grand, France

The glum, Fifties-style setting of Terry Gilliam’s visually stunning fantasy is a mixture of elaborate sets built at Lee Studios, and cunning location work.

The vast clerks pool in the ‘Department of Records’, where Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) works, and the deserted corridors of the ‘Expediting Department’, are the interior of the old deserted CWS Flour Mill at the Royal Victoria Dock in east London. The mill also provided the grim passageways and stairwells, as well as the exterior, of ‘Shangri La Towers’, the unfortunate Buttle’s tower block.

The pompous restaurant at which Sam meets his mother (Katherine Helmond), oblivious to a pyrotechnic terrorist attack is the grand Entrance Hall of Mentmore Towers, with its white marble staircase leading up to the glass-roofed Grand Hall.

Mentmore Towers in the village of Mentmore, Buckinghamshire, seen also in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, as the ‘Cairo’ museum in Stephen Sommers’ 1999 version of The Mummy (then as the home of the O’Connells in The Mummy Returns) and as ‘Wayne Manor’ in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins.

It was built in the 1850s for the Rothschild family. Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, the architect of Crystal Palace, it’s modelled on the Elizabethan Wollaton Hall near Nottingham (which in turn became ‘Wayne Manor’ for The Dark Knight Rises). In 1977 the house hit the headlines when the entire contents were sold by Sothebys. A hidden stash of silverware was discovered beneath a trapdoor.

The house became headquarters of the Maharishi University of Natural Law, but was subsequently put up for sale. It is being redeveloped as a luxury hotel.

Brazil location: Mentmore Towers, Mentmore, Buckinghamshire
Brazil location: The attack on the restaurant: Mentmore Towers, Mentmore, Buckinghamshire | Photograph: Alamy / Robert Stainforth

The flamboyant setting for Mrs Lowry’s facial surgery is the famous Arab Hall of Leighton House, 12 Holland Park Road, London W14, camped up with copies of Michelangelo’s David in its alcoves.

Brazil location: Leighton House, Holland Park, London
Brazil location: The 'plastic surgery clinic': Leighton House, Holland Park, London | Photograph /Alamy

This eccentric Victorian gem, decorated in gilt and blue Islamic tiles – the fantasy creation of Royal Academician Frederick Lord Leighton – is part of the Leighton House Museum. It contains more restored Victorian interiors, along with paintings by Leighton himself and his contemporaries Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais and George Frederick Watts. Find it north of the western reaches of Kensington High Street.

Brazil location: National Liberal Club, Whitehall Court, London
Brazil location: home of Mrs Lowry: National Liberal Club, Whitehall Court, London

Mrs Lowry’s cluttered home is the Billiard Room of the old National Liberal Club, 1 Whitehall Court at Whitehall Place, seen in many other movies, including Highlander and David Lynch's The Elephant Man. The dramatic spiral staircase is also here. The club has since been incorporated into the Royal Horseguards Hotel.

You can see the club’s exterior as the ‘auction house’ which gets robbed in Danny Boyle’s Trance.

Lowry’s neighbourhood is Noisy-le-Grand, a self-consciously modern satellite town about twenty miles east of Paris on the RER line, en route to Disneyland Paris. This is what you'll really want to see, and it's worth the trip.

His bizarre apartment complex is architect Ricardo Bofill's 1984 Palacio d’Abraxas Apartments, Place d'Abraxas, off Boulevard du Mont d'Est, west of the town centre (Terry Gilliam's original title for the film was 1984 1/2). It’s a spectacular, bizarre and, in places, rundown housing estate.

Brazil location: Palacio d'Abraxas, Noisy-le-Grand, France
Brazil location: The pathway to the 'Chapel of Our Lady of the Checkout Counter': central courtyard of the Palacio d'Abraxas, Noisy-le-Grand, France

The extravagantly theatrical central courtyard of the complex provided the delirious pathway to the funeral parlour in Lowry's climactic fantasy. A great showpiece when built, it doesn't seem to have been well maintained. You can see it again as the Capitol of Panem in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.

The pink deco interior of the ‘Chapel of Our Lady of the Checkout Counter’ itself is back in London. It's the Rainbow Room, on the top floor of the old Derry & Toms-Biba store, 99 High Street Kensington, entrance on Derry Street. It’s now an Equinox gym.

The brief country idyll filmed in the Lake District in Cumbria in the north of England.

The torture chamber is the interior of one of the giant cooling towers of Croydon Power Station, south London. The complex has since been demolished, though the names of the new streets on the site – Ampere, Volta, Faraday, Galvani – record its history, and there’s even a Brazil Close.

The station also provided the exterior of the Ministry, and though most, including the imposing entrance, has gone, you can still see some of the monumental deco brickwork at the foot of the two huge chimneys now on the site of the IKEA Superstore on Ampere Way.