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The United Kingdom contains some of the most stunning and iconic scenery in the world. From the green and rolling hills to the craggy cliffs of Scotland, the archetype for so much of the world’s landscape is found right at home in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
This makes it easy for the British countryside to stand in for its many imitators, and the modern and well-equipped studios of London have taken movies from the depths of psychedelic inner space to the farthest reaches of outer space time and again. Here are a few examples of some of the most memorable occasions in which UK film locations have stood in for another location, providing flawless invocations of the places in question and helping to create all these classic films.
(The Shining), New York City (Eyes Wide Shut) and Huá City, Vietnam (Full Metal Jacket) Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest directors of film history, made nearly all of his later films in England. He used the misty English countryside to substitute for Parris Island in “Full Metal Jacket,” and he meticulously crafted a realer-than-real life Greenwich Village for the hero’s hypnotic journey in “Eyes Wide Shut.” However, his greatest creation was the sprawing, magnificent Overlook Hotel, for the 1981 film “The Shining.”
The mind-bending spaces and subtly disturbing interiors of the Overlook Hotel are so overwhelming that the Hotel has been called the main character of the film. There has even been a documentary produced, called “Room 237,” exploring the set and the way it is presented. The Overlook Hotel, including the hedge maze where the final chase occurs, was constructed entirely in England. Although the aerial shot and the exteriors were filmed in Oregon and Colorado, every bit of endless hallway was made on one cavernous, enormous set at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire.
(The Empire Strikes Back) Curiously, there were two classic films being made in that studio in England at the same time. While Kubrick was recreating the chilly majesty of the Colorado winter for the Shining, only a few miles away George Lucas was making a different winter wonderland with his enduring creation of the Rebel base on the ice planet of Hoth. Thrilling scenes like the fight with the Wampa, the search for Luke, and the attack of the AT-AT walkers were all filmed in a false world of ice and snow built by some of the very same people that worked on “The Shining.” The difference was that “Empire Strikes Back” used powdered sugar for their snow, whereas “The Shining” used salt.
(Monty Python and the Holy Grail) Although the Knights of the Round Table, as depicted in the ageless comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” chose not to go to Camelot, they did not stray far from its environs in the film. After all, they were only moving as fast as they could walk. The film was mostly shot on the stony hills of Scotland, and it is possible that there was once a wizard named “Tim” who lived there. But the “historical” Camelot was not in Scotland. It was further south, though no one knows exactly where. It has been placed in Cornwall, Wales, and even across the Channel in Brittany. It goes without saying that the castles that the heroes visit in their journey are far advanced of their time period as well. King Arthur and his knights lived around the 6th century, whereas the magnificent French edifice they approach is neither located in France nor half that old. It is Doune Castle, in Stirling, Scotland, and it was built in the 14th century.
(The Ghost Writer) Legendary director Roman Polanski has a truly unique perspective on world history and America. Since he cannot set foot on American soil, he uses the city of London to create the cold American avenues in his understated masterpiece “The Ghost Writer.” As the unnamed writer first encounters the transatlantic mystery he travels the streets near his publishing house, but those streets are in London. Then he goes to Massachusetts, which is filmed in Germany, on the very spot where the Nazis once tested their V2 rockets for their attacks on England. After discovering the truth behind the book he has been hired to write the author flies back home to his American publishing house, but it just so happens to be in London again. As with “Eyes Wide Shut,” the English impersonation of the cities of the North American seaboard is flawless. After all, London is a multi-faceted city.