Wonka | 2023
Paul King's irresistible origins story, set in an unnamed pan-European city, was mostly filmed on elaborate and beautifully detailed sets at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden near Watford in Hertfordshire (home of the Harry Potter movies and Barbie).
This is where the entire town square, with 'St Benedict's Cathedral' and ‘Galeries Gourmet’, was constructed. If you're familiar with Milan, you'll recognise its famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II as the inspiration for the Galeries.
There are practical locations (often digitally enhanced) but they’re blended in seamlessly and easy to miss.
For instance, although the frontage of 'St Benedict's' is part of the town set, once we pass through the doors the interior is St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It does have a crypt, just not full of chocolate. It's the lasting resting place of the great and the good including Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and, of course, the Cathedral's architect Sir Christopher Wren.
The confessional box, which in the film leads down to the Chocolate Cartel's basement, does exist though it was recreated in the studio.
St Paul’s seems to be more film-friendly than ever. Paul King had already filmed here for Paddington 2, and the venerable landmark even hosted part of the chase sequence in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
At the beginning of the film, Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) arrives by ship at the Dorset port of Lyme Regis on England's south coast. That long curving stone pier (which doesn't have a lighthouse) is The Cobb, a breakwater built back in the 13th century, which achieved literary fame in Jane Austen's Persuasion and screen fame in 1982 in The French Lieutenant's Woman (remember Meryl Streep braving the crashing waves in a billowing cloak?).
We're back to the studio as the near-penniless Wonka wanders the town's streets – and becomes literally penniless. The shift back to a real location is imperceptible. Those steps down which he walks lead down to Parade Gardens in the centre of Bath, another World Heritage Site. The spa town in Somerset is is famous for its Roman Baths which became hugely fashionable during the Georgian period, hence the city's superb 18th century architecture.
Wonka loses his last coin down a grid as he's about to turn into The Colonnades, a covered riverside walk which, due to its condition, has been closed to the public for some years (and that grid was added for the film). The Colonnades run alongside Pulteney Weir on the River Avon which was featured in Tom Hooper's film of Les Misérables.
As he’s about to settle down for a freezing night on a bench in The Colonnades, Wonka is approached by Bleacher (Tom Davis), who generously directs him to the boarding house run by Mrs Scrubitt (Olivia Colman). From here on, we’re back to studio sets, including the little hump-backed bridge and the boarding-house itself.
Finding himself in debt to Mrs Scrubitt, Wonka is forced to work in the wash-house. Among his fellow inmates he bonds with the apparently orphaned Noodle (Calah Lane).
He tells Noodle of his idyllic childhood, living on a longboat with his mother (Sally Hawkins). These brief flashbacks were filmed on picturesque stretches of the River Thames, including Goring Gap, a narrow valley at the village of Goring; Sutton Bridge, crossing the Thames near Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, festooned by wonderfully photogenic weeping willows; and around Mapledurham, the Oxfordshire village featured in the 1976 Michael Caine WWII adventure The Eagle Has Landed.
Something that looks so much like a film set but isn't is the gorgeous wood-panelled Art Deco home of Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), where Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter) discovers the ledger with the secrets of the Cartel.
This is Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, London SE9. Once a medieval manor house, after falling into disrepair, it was rescued and restored in the Thirties by the Courtauld family. The textile magnates built their glamorous London showpiece alongside the remains of the royal palace – which had been the boyhood home of the future King Henry VIII.
A gift to film-makers, the magnificently stylish house has previously been seen as the lounge of a luxury ocean liner in the 2008 film of Brideshead Revisited; as the King’s private cinema in Richard Loncraine’s 1995 Richard III with Ian McKellen; and as the home of ferocious gangster Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta) in Guy Ritchie’s Revolver, among other appearances.
We see Eltham’s striking exterior later on in the film when, in good old Dickensian fashion, a distraught young mother is forced to abandon her newborn baby.
When Wonka realises his perfect chocolate recipe requires giraffe milk, wide shots of the zoo, into which Wonka and Noodle break, were filmed on an outdoor set built from scratch alongside the lake in Verulamium Park, St Albans, north of London in Hertfordshire.
St Albans, formerly called Verulamium, is full of history. The second-largest town in Roman Britain after Londinium, it was the first major stop for travellers heading north on the old Roman road of Watling Street .
The zoo itself was built in the old hangars at Cardington Airfield, enormous spaces which have found a new lease of life housing large-scale film shoots including Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.
After later 'borrowing' the giraffe, Abacus Crunch drives it through the streets of Oxford, encountering a slight inconvenience negotiating the famous Hertford Bridge, commonly known as the Bridge of Sighs.
But when Slugworth hears of the odd events by phone in his Rolls Royce, we’re back in Bath, where he’s impeded by a flock of flamingoes on the colonnaded Bath Street.
It’s no spoiler to reveal that all ends happily as Noodle is reunited with her birth mother. It turns out she works at the library, 'Bibliotheca Universitatis'. This is Oxford's famous circular 18th century Radcliffe Camera (nothing to do with photography – ‘camera’ is simply Latin for room) on Radcliffe Square.
It is a library, now used as a reading room for Oxford University's historic Boleian Library.
Opposite this landmark, Wonka reunites with the Oompah-Loompah (Hugh Grant) in the courtyard of the Old Bodleian Library.
Finally Wonka goes on to fulfill his ambition of opening a chocolate factory after purchasing a ruined castle.
These picturesque ruins are Bodiam Castle near the village of Bodiam in East Sussex, though again there's trickery. What appears to be a raised walkway approaching the main entrance is a causeway across the wide moat surrounding the castle, which was removed digitally.
Bodiam dates from the 14th-century and, like many other castles was partially dismantled (or ‘slighted’) after the Civil War in 1651 to prevent it from ever being used in war again.
Bodiam was featured in 1955 costume drama The Adventures of Quentin Durward and used as the exterior of ’Swamp Castle’ in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s now owned by the National Trust and open to the public.
One final quickie comes during the Oompah-Loompah's mid-credits film show revealing the fates of the characters.
Built as a picture palace in 1913, the Rivoli is now the only remaining intact 1950s ballroom in London. As such it’s been seen as the Krays' nightclub in 2015's Legend, with Tom Hardy playing both gangster twins; in My Week With Marilyn; and in Captain America’s 40s flashback in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. The ballroom's bar even stood in for an 'East German' club in Tony Scott’s Spy Game, with Brad Pitt.