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Wednesday July 17th 2024

Velvet Goldmine | 1998

Velvet Goldmine filming location: Chiswick House, Chiswick, London W4
Velvet Goldmine filming location: the exterior of the old 'Sombrero Club': Chiswick House, Chiswick, London W4 | Photograph: Wikimedia / Michael Coppins

Brave but, ultimately, botched fantasia on the Seventies glam rock phenomenon, from the maverick director Todd Haynes who went on to make the Sirkian melodrama Far From Heaven and the 2015 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's Carol.

It's structured as a pastiche of Citizen Kane, with Arthur Stewart (Christian Bale) investigating the mysterious life and disappearance of Bowiesque rockstar Brian Slade, aka Maxwell Demon (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and his relationship with American Iggy-Poppish rocker, Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor).

It's all filmed around London and environs, including the bizarre prologue, set in 'Dublin, 1854'.

Velvet Goldmine filming location: Elder Street, Spitalfields, London E1
Velvet Goldmine filming location: baby Oscar Wilde is deposited in a 'Dublin' doorway: Elder Street, Spitalfields, London E1 | Image: Google Maps

The doorway in which the baby Oscar Wilde is deposited by aliens is 15 Elder Street, a tiny cobbled lane off Folgate Street in the historic area of Spitalfields, London E1.

Velvet Goldmine film location: Hackney Empire, Mare Street, London E8
Velvet Goldmine film location: young Brian Slade learns about theatre life: Hackney Empire, Mare Street, London E8 | Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo / Grant Smith-VIEW

Still in the East End, star-to-be Slade learns a bit about theatre – and life – watching a panto dame (Lindsay Kemp) perform on- and off-stage at the famous Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Lane, E8, seen also in biopics Chaplin and Judy as well as Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger.

The small angled backstreet of Hanway Place, behind Hanway Street off Tottenham Court Road in the West End, is where the glitter kids first glimpse Jack Fairy, on their way to the concert at which Demon fakes his onstage assassination.

The venue, though, is way, way south across the River Thames at Brixton Academy – now 02 Academy Brixton, 211 Stockwell Road, Brixton SW9. The Academy is also one of the featured venues in Michael Winterbottom's extraordinary 2004 9 Songs.

Fast forward to 1984 and the assignation of journalist Stuart to trace the disappeared rock star in 'New York'.

The quest takes him no further than the Sixties concrete canyons of central Croydon, South London. And the 'Midtown Manhattan' dive is the bar of the Railway Social Club, 78 Goodhall Street, off Old Oak Lane, NW10, near glamorous Willesden Junction. The club's Upper Hall became the 'Last Resort' club, where he interviews Brian's wife, washed-up Mandy Slade (Toni Collette).

The social club had previously been seen in another rock-based film, as 'Hamburg' in Backbeat, Iain Softley's 1993 story of the early days of The Beatles.

The immediate area surrounding the club soon reverts to being London again when Slade, as a young Mod, picks up a schoolboy nearby on Stephenson Street. There's been more filming around here. 29 Goodhall Street was home to the titular character of Spider (Ralph Fiennes) in the David Cronenberg movie, and Mod Jimmy lived not too far away, in Quadrophenia.

The obligatory rock'n'roll orgy is at Mentmore Towers, the Gothic pile in the village of Mentmore in Buckinghamshire. The house, just to the north of Cheddington station, on the West Coast Main Line between London Euston and Milton Keynes, is is currently closed after plans to convert it into a hotel fell through.

The Victorian mansion, a Victorian extravagance built in 1854 for the Rothschild banking family, was the exterior of the 'Long Island' estate in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, as well as being being seen in Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Stephen Sommers' The Mummy.

Mentmore Towers also appeared as 'Wayne Manor' in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Oddly, Mentmore was based on the genuine Tudor mansion of Wollaton Hall, Nottinghamshire, in the English Midlands, but the much older Wollaton itself appeared as the 'rebuilt' ‘Wayne Manor’ in The Dark Knight Rises.

The old 'Sombrero Club', where Slade is discovered playing guitar, Man Who Sold The World-style, in a frock, is somewhat glamourised.

The famous gay hangout lay behind an unremarkable doorway at 142-144 High Street Kensington, but the film uses 17 Brigade Street, a tiny cobbled passageway between Tranquil Passage and Royal Parade, Blackheath, South London (well, it looked more glamorous in the film).

Velvet Goldmine filming location: Brigade Street, Blackheath, London SE3
Velvet Goldmine filming location: the exterior of the old 'Sombrero Club': Brigade Street, Blackheath, London SE3 | Image: Google Maps

Here Haynes takes a break from Kane for a little homage to the party scene from Orson Welles' subsequent film, The Magnificent Ambersons.

The 'Sombrero' interior, where the club patrons speak entirely in subtitled 'polari' (a traditional old gay slang) is the upstairs pub theatre and music venue, The Bedford, 77 Bedford Hill at Fernlea Road, Balham, SW12.

Stuart and happily polysexual Curt Wild get it together on the roof of Stanley Buildings, which stood on the now-gone Stanley Passage, which ran between Pancras Road and Cheney Road. The whole area behind King's Cross Station has been drastically redeveloped and only a couple of the original buildings survive.

The Grade II-listed Stanley Buildings, seen on-screen in Mike Leigh's High Hopes and the 1995 film of Richard III with Sir Ian McKellen, was also Michael Palin's 'dockland' mission to fallen women In The Missionary and home to Kathy Burke in sadly overlooked Camden-set 1999 romcom This Year's Love.

Famously, McGregor and Bale continued gamely humping away, unaware that the cameras, which were sited on a nearby rooftop, had long-since stopped turning.

The wood-panelled deco office of 'Bijou Records' supremo Jerry Devine (Eddie Izzard) is the Bethnal Hall Room of what was Bethnal Green Town Hall – now converted into the Town Hall Hotel, Cambridge Heath Road at Patriot Square, London E2. You can now hire this beautiful space for functions.

In its Town Hall days, the building also housed the London Film Office and its drop-dead stylish interior made frequent screen appearances. Most famously, it was the office of 'Hatchet' Harry (PH Moriarty) in Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and went on to become the office of Benicio del Toro's tailor in the same director's Snatch. The art deco entrance hall became the courthouse in Anthony Minghella's 2006 Breaking And Entering, and supplied the interior of the 'Lyons Corner House' tea room where James McAvoy meets up with Keira Knightley in Joe Wright's 2007 adaptation of Atonement.

The formal garden in which Devine directs the glitzy music promo is that of Chiswick House, Burlington Lane, W4. Built in 1725 for the Earl of Burlington, the house – modelled after the Villa Rotonda in Vicenzo, is one of the finest Palladian villas in the country.

As you can see in the film, it's set in those elegant gardens populated with classical statues, obelisks and sphinxes. On screen, it was also the home of aristocrat James Fox's parents in Joseph Losey's 1963 The Servant.