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Tuesday March 5th 2024

Chaplin | 1992

Chaplin film location: The old gasometers on Cheney Road behind King's Cross
Chaplin filming location: Charlie Chaplin’s childhood home in ‘Lambeth’: The old gasometers on Cheney Road behind King’s Cross

Richard Attenborough’s bio-pic of silent film star Charlie Chaplin uses a slew of interesting locations ranging from California to London.

The early life of Chaplin (Robert Downey Jr) in ‘Lambeth’, south London, filmed in north London, behind King’s Cross Station at the junction of the cobbled Cheney Road and Battle Bridge Road, NW1.

The houses – including Charlie’s home – are a vast set which took four months to build, though the gasometers are real enough (they probably look familiar, having been seen in The Ladykillers, Alfie, Backbeat and Shirley Valentine, as well as many other films, ads and TV shows).

The site has since been extensively redeveloped to accommodate the St Pancras International Eurostar terminal, and two of the three the gasometers have been removed. Their future is uncertain.

Chaplin film location: Wilton's Music Hall, 1 Grace's Alley, Wellclose Square, off Cable Street, London E1
Chaplin filming location: Charlie saves the day at the ‘Aldershot’ theatre: Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Grace’s Alley, Wellclose Square, off Cable Street, London E1

The scene of little tot Chaplin saving the day when his mother’s stage act takes a nose dive, set in ‘Aldershot, Hampshire’, was filmed in the famous Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Grace’s Alley, Wellclose Square, off Cable Street, London E1.

The hall, built in 1858, was the first and one of the most successful of London’s music halls. It was taken over by scandalised Methodists in the 1880s, and run as a mission until 1956, when it became a rag warehouse. For many years it lay dilapidated, used only for film shoots, including The Krays, The Danish Girl, Karel Reisz’s Isadora, with Vanessa Redgrave as the flamboyant dancer, Douglas McGrath’s 2002 film of Nicholas Nickleby, Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream and John Landis’s Burke And Hare (as the ‘Lyceum Theatre’ in which the all-female Macbeth is staged), as well as music videos (Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax must have had the Methodists whizzing round in their graves, though Mumford & SonsLittle Lion Man might calm them down).

Chaplin film location: Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, London E8
Chaplin filming location: Chaplin’s drunk act: Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, London E8

Chaplin’s first comic success, crashing the stage as a belligerent drunk, was filmed at the beautiful Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, London E8. The stageside box, in which he makes his appearance, was built especially for the movie. Charlie Chaplin actually did perform here, but you might be surprised to see the theatre again in Captain America: The First Avenger.

Chaplin film location: St Pancras Chambers, above St Pancras Station, Euston Road, London NW1
Chaplin filming location: Chaplin’s mother is confined to the asylum: St Pancras Chambers, above St Pancras Station, Euston Road, London NW1

The ‘Cane Hill Asylum’, where Chaplin’s disturbed mother (Geraldine Chaplin – the real Charlie Chaplin’s daughter) is incarcerated, was filmed inside the then- disused St Pancras Chambers, attached to what is now St Pancras International, Euston Road, London NW1.

Originally built as Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Midland Grand Hotel, a lavish palace of luxury for Victorian travellers, the hotel was soon overtaken by changing demands. Ironically, the building’s solid construction proved its downfall. Unable to accommodate such modern improvements as en-suite bathrooms and central heating, the hotel inevitably closed down.

Its ceilings were boarded over, its lavish rooms divided up into offices, and in the Sixties the wildly unfashionable extravaganza came close to being demolished. Grade I listing finally ensured its survival and radical restoration means that it is functioning as a luxury hotel once again, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

While it was closed, its Ladies Smoking Room became the office of the ‘Gotham Globe’ in Tim Burton’s Batman and its elaborate Victorian Gothic stairwell became 'Arkham Asylum' in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

The riverside audition for music hall impresario Fred Karno (John Thaw) filmed in the grounds of the former Astor estate at Cliveden House in Berkshire, three miles northeast of Maidenhead. Once home to the Astor family, the Cliveden estate is now also a National Trust property, and the house itself a luxury hotel. It was previously seen in the BeatlesHelp!, as 'Revolutionary France" in Carry On Don't Lose Your Head and in Guy Ritchie’s 2009 version of Sherlock Holmes.

Chaplin film location: Smithfield Meat Market between Charterhouse Street and Long Lane, London EC1
Chaplin filming location: a cuppa at the ‘Covent Garden’ market: Smithfield Meat Market between Charterhouse Street and Long Lane, London EC1

After being snubbed at a snobbish restaurant, Chaplin takes his first love, Hetty Kelly, for a cup of tea at the old ‘Covent Garden vegetable market’, where it was possible to get a cuppa at any hour of the day or night – or even get a beer at seven in the morning, due to the special license arrangements for the Garden porters.

In the 70s, the market moved to a modern site south of the Thames in Nine Elms, so the scene was actually shot at Smithfield Meat Market between Charterhouse Street and Long Lane, London EC1. You can see the real Covent Garden market, as it was in its heyday, in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 Frenzy.

Smithfield Market was featured as itself in Catch Us If You Can and Last Orders, and was overrun by the infected in 28 Weeks Later...

Chaplin soon takes off for the fledgling movie industry of the States. The Keystone Studio of pioneer Mack Sennett (Dan Aykroyd), where Chaplin got his first job, stood at 1712 Allessandro Street.

Chaplin’s own studio, where he made The Immigrant, The Floorwalker and Easy Street in 1916 and 1917, was located at 1025 Lillian Way, south of Santa Monica Boulevard between Eleanor and Romaine Streets. No trace of either studio remains.

Hollywood in the twenties was still a town of citrus groves, so the studios were recreated north of Los Angeles at Fillmore, Route 126 between Ventura and Valencia. The ‘Hollywoodland’ sign, where Chaplin plays with Douglas Fairbanks (Kevin Kline), was recreated too.

The mock-Tudor studio is a recreation of the one Chaplin used from 1918 onwards, though this, amazingly, has survived. It’s now the home of Jim Henson’s production company, and is currently graced with a giant Kermit the Frog, at 1416 La Brea Avenue, south of Sunset Boulevard. Chaplin’s footprints are preserved in concrete on Stage 3.

Charlie’s home was on Summit Drive in Beverly Hills, but the film utilises a house built by the same architect, Wallace Neff, in the monied Los Angeles suburb of San Marino.

Chaplin film location: The Ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel, 607 South Park View Street, downtown Los Angeles
Chaplin filming location: William Randolph Hearst’s party: The Ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel, 607 South Park View Street, downtown Los Angeles

William Randolph Hearst’s post-WWII party, where Chaplin upstages FBI boss J Edgar Hoover (Kevin Dunn) with his breadroll dance, is held in the much-used Ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel, 607 South Park View Street overlooking MacArthur Park. in downtown Los Angeles. This popular film location can also be seen in the Coen brothersBarton Fink, Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, Steven Spielberg’s Hook among many others.

Returning to England, the train journey from ‘Southampton to London’ was filmed on the Bluebell Railway – a five mile stretch of track between Horsted Keynes and Sheffield Park, northeast of Haywards Heath in East Sussex. One of the railway’s tunnels is featured in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, and Horsted Keynes Station itself is now famous as ‘Downton’ station in the TV series Downton Abbey. It also features in Mr Holmes and as ‘Cambridge Station’ in The Theory Of Everything, the biopic of Professor Stephen Hawking.

The enthusiastic welcome to the capital, which actually took place at ‘Waterloo Station’, was filmed on St Pancras Station, which was one of the least changed of London’s great termini until its revamp as St Pancras International.

Chaplin film location: The Salisbury, Green Lanes, Harringay, London N15
Chaplin filming location: Charlie finds he’s no longer welcome: The Salisbury, Green Lanes, Harringay, London N15

The ‘Covent Garden’ pub, where Chaplin discovers he’s no longer just one of the lads, is the grand, but rather faded, Salisbury, Green Lanes at the corner of St Ann’s Road, Harringay, London N15, which was seen also in Brit classic The Long Good Friday and in David Cronenberg’s Spider.

The shipbound scene, of Chaplin heading back to the States, was shot aboard the Queen Mary, 1126 Queen's Highway at her dry dock on Pier J in Long Beach, Los Angeles – the ‘Manhattan’ skyline was added later.

Chaplin filming location: Los Angeles Theatre, 615 South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles
Chaplin filming location: the glittering premiere of Limelight Los Angeles Theatre, 615 South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles

The première of Chaplin’s Limelight was filmed in the dazzling foyer of the 1931 Second Empire-style Los Angeles Theatre, 615 South Broadway in the vibrant – if a bit down at heel – Hispanic centre of downtown Los Angeles. The theatre’s gorgeous interior can also be seen in Batman Forever, Charlie’s Angels and sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, New York, New York, as a raunchy casino in Armageddon, and as ‘the Vatican’, no less, in End of Days.

Anthony Hopkins’ fictional biographer interviews the elderly Chaplin at the real Chaplin estate, courtesy of his widow Oona, who had given the film her blessing. It’s in Vevey, twelve miles east of Lausanne on the north shore of Lake Leman in Switzerland.

The closing scenes, of Chaplin’s belated Lifetime Achievement Oscar award, though shot on a set at Shepperton Studios in the UK, were intercut with shots of the actual ceremony at the one-time home of the Academy Award ceremonies, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – part of the Music Center, 135 North Grand Avenue between First and Temple Streets in the Bunker Hill district of Los Angeles.