The star of these shows: London, a set piece come to life


The occasion called for afternoon tea. We were in Toluca Lake, but our hearts and heads were in London.

Daryl Cameron, formerly chief of staff for the British consul general in Los Angeles, and I were waxing nostalgic about our favorite film and TV locations in Big Ben’s home.

London is a character unto itself in movies and TV shows, just waiting to embrace film buffs. I flung myself into its arms on a trip in October and eagerly followed in the footsteps of Bridget Jones, James Bond, Lady Edith Crawley and Harry Potter.


As visitors will discover, a memorable movie or TV location is waiting seemingly around the corner.

Before we parted that day, Cameron told me about strolling on Harley Street, where prominent doctors and therapists have had their offices since Victorian times. Cameron recognized it as a location from 2010’s “The King’s Speech,” where King George VI, played by Colin Firth, is treated for his stammer.

“It was dark and foggy that day, just like in the film, and I immediately felt transported back 100 years,” Cameron said. “This is a regular occurrence on my visits to London. You can get lost and allow time to seem ambiguous.”

Getting lost in London’s film locations was exactly what I had in mind.

A trek across the Tower Bridge had me strutting its length just like Renée Zellweger in 2004’s “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.”While in Kensington Gardens, I recalled the fateful meeting of Johnny Depp (J.M. Barrie) and cinematic mother and son Kate Winslet (Sylvia Llewelyn Davies) and Freddie Highmore (Peter) in “Finding Neverland,” the story of Barrie’s inspiration for “Peter Pan.”


Time on London’s tube had me thinking of scenes in “The Bourne Ultimatum” (Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, 2007) and “Skyfall” (Daniel Craig as James Bond, 2012).

I never tire of Portobello Road’s street market, perhaps because it is so beloved by fans of “Notting Hill,” the 1999 rom-com. I envisioned rubbing elbows with William Thacker (Hugh Grant) and Anna Scott (Julia Roberts).

Whether peering through the gates of Buckingham Palace, sighing over the London Eye or snapping selfies in front of red telephone boxes, I found myself whispering, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a city, asking it to love her,” a bit of dialogue I had adapted from Roberts in “Notting Hill.”

And London loves film fans right back. As we approach the Oscars, let’s take a look at some places where film (and TV) embraces.

Sleeping on the set

London’s notable accommodations often host movie shoots. “I love the famous old hotels in London: the Ritz, the Savoy and Claridge’s,” Cameron told me. “Entering these historic properties feels like traipsing onto a movie set, where characters from ‘A Room With a View’ could stroll through at any moment.”

Pack your bags for the Ritz and the Savoy, which make appearances in “Notting Hill.” (The Hempel, also in that film, closed in 2013.)

If you stay at the Royal Horseguards Hotel you’ll catch glimpses of “The Constant Gardener” (2005), “Brazil” (1985) “The Elephant Man” (1980),“Highlander” (1986)and “Blue Ice” (1992).

Other London hotels serve as stand-ins. The Langham was cast as the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the 007 film “GoldenEye” (1995, with Pierce Brosnan as Bond).

The Taj 51 Buckingham Gates Suites & Residences and St. James’ Court hotel both served as the home of Henry Wilcox, played by Anthony Hopkins, in 1992’s “Howards End.”


Movies about royals get a double-dose of fan love. Topping the list is “The Queen,” the 2006 film for which Helen Mirren won the Oscar for lead actress. Buckingham Palace, both home and offices of her majesty, the queen, also starred.

Palace tours are available on certain dates. Some to catch: the State Rooms (July 22-Oct. 1), the Royal Mews (through Nov. 30) and the Queen’s Gallery. (Check the site for dates.)

Another “Queen” location is No. 10 Downing St., headquarters of the government of the United Kingdom and residence of the prime minister. Security these days means you can catch only a glimpse.

London’s star tours

Highclere Castle, 45 miles west of central London, is better known to many as Downton Abbey, the setting of the popular PBS series that ended in 2016.
(Matthew Lloyd / For the Times)

If you’re not well versed about London or if you’re hoping to happen upon a tidbit about a favorite blockbuster, a Brit Movies Tour might be in order.

These expeditions focus either on specific films or television shows such as “Dr. Who,” “Sherlock Holmes” (the 2009 and 2011 movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as well as the current BBC version starring Benedict Cumberbatch) or “Downton Abbey,” or you can take one tour dedicated to London films.

I went on the two-hour London Film Locations Walk, which wasn’t quite my cup of tea. It focused on action movies (I tend to favor rom-coms), although a few stories about unsuspecting city dwellers wandering into film shoots were humorous.

You can’t really complain about seeing the outside of Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery and Scotland Yard, now can you?

Then there was catching sight of Prince Charles’ motorcade, as well as spying the queen’s horse guards on their way to the daily Changing the Queen’s Life Guard. Neither was part of the tour, but great fun to catch.

Farther afield

These film and television locations are not in London proper so they call for a day trip.

Muggles and wizards alike will want to take the Making of Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, 20 miles outside the city in Leavesden.

Young tourists in Hogwarts attire set the mood, with film sets, costumes and props displayed on the 3½-hour tour. Highlights include Diagon Alley, Great Hall, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut and, at Platform 9¾, Hogwarts Express.

Tourists stroll along the Diagon Alley movie set at The Making of Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studios experience in London.
(Ross D. Franklin / AP)

Highclere Castle, 45 miles west of central London, is better known to many as Downton Abbey, the setting of the popular PBS series that ended in 2016.

You can make the visit a twofer by taking a 45-minute train ride from Paddington Station and catching sites in “Paddington,” the bear film from 2014.

When you arrive in Newbury, Downton’s Tom Branson won’t be waiting to chauffeur you, but taxis are available. There are a limited number of days for visiting the castle and the gardens, and you can now stay overnight on the estate at London Lodge.

Just a 90-minute drive outside of London in Oxfordshire is Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site and location of myriad films, including “Spectre” (2015), “Cinderella” (2015) and “Transformers: The Last Knight,” to be released in June.

Harry Potter fans will want to venture into Blenheim’s parklands, where a 55-foot cedar of Lebanon featured in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007) stands. Emergency efforts recently prevented the collapse of the tree, from which James Potter and Sirius Black dangled a young Severus Snape.

Not exactly a fairy tale moment, but the rest of these locations largely make up for that lapse of manners.