Including Peaky Blinders, Captain America, Sherlock Holmes and Netflix's new one - The Stranger.
It must be really difficult and expensive to film in New York, what with all the taxis and the people shouting “I’m walking here!”, so they come to Manchester instead, set up a bit of scaffolding and endure a week of nosy Mancs poking around and trying to get a glimpse of a major Hollywood star.
Here’s a pick of some of the biggest things that have been filmed in and around Manchester. I’ve not included Cold Feet because I hate it more than I hate stubbing my toe on the bed frame.
February saw the Northern Quarter be transformed yet again into New York. There were yellow cabs and Harley Davidson’s, pizza boxes and those metal ‘trash cans’. They even put in those steamy pot hole things in the ground and I have no idea what they’re actually called. Anyway, it was a bit of a frenzy. Most of the filming took place in one day in Stevenson Square, but as ever there were some on the famous Peaky Blinders alleyway and areas like Hilton Street and all those small roads behind Piccadilly Approach. Anyway, when the next season comes out you can guarantee I’ll be looking for my flat again.
This one is still yet to be released, so keep an eye out for it when it hits the cinema screen this year. Apparently it dives into the background of one of Spiderman’s enemies – who just happens to be a bloody vampire (of sorts). As you’d expect, there will be some fake New York scenes, and so that’s where the infamous back alleys of the Northern Quarter come in again! When this was being filmed, no one quite knew what it was and everyone was dead impressed that some big-budget blockbuster would be here in little old Manchester. It also meant for at least 24 hours everyone’s Instagram stories were just of Jared Leto in a hood in a doorway. This put a halt to everything for a while with massive boards the size of buildings shutting off a number of roads and giant lights on cranes. It’s long since forgotten and now we’re all talking about The Stranger on Netflix.
Captain America: The First Avenger
The bit in the first Captain America when he goes to Brooklyn as a weedy little sod and comes back as a superhero is really exciting, involving a fast-paced chase through the streets featuring explosions, screaming and lots of big bulging muscles. There’s one big distraction though – the Brooklyn depicted in the background of many of the shots is in fact Dale Street in the Northern Quarter, complete with fake shop fronts, the exterior of Boo Hoo and some Manchester street sludge.
Without any spoilers, I loved this until I saw the last episode last night and I’ve not been so disappointed and hurt by how much time I’d invested in something to have it stripped away in a terrible ending since Game of Thrones last year. It is worth a watch to see how they dramatically cut from Salford to Ancoats in car chases and to spot enough places in Manchester to make a tour about it any day now. There’s a cafe near the Cathedral, a £1.5m Didsbury house, The Central Library’s Archways, a Bolton School, Spinningfields, Ancoats Coffee Co and bloody loads more where that comes from. I recommend pouring a large glass of wine, whacking this on and drinking three fingers every time you see somewhere you recognise. With any hope, you’ll be drunk enough to forget the terrible ending that was only chosen to mean there will definitely be a season 2.
World on Fire
I think you’d be lying if you said you’d seen this. It’s a WWII drama and was filmed on Hilton Street near Pen and Pencil and the Whiskey Jar. It saw a whole host of those Churchill-type posters go up and the whole street covered in gravel that I found in my shoe for a solid week after. The BBC 1 drama saw Sean Bean take to the 40s with the backdrop of the Northern Quarter’s best red brick buildings.
The 4th season of Peaky Blinders was certainly action packed, with one of the biggest and most exciting set-pieces coming with Tommy Shelby shooting the shit out of Adrian Brody’s Italian-American mob geezers in the back streets of Birmingham. Eventually broken up by some coppers, the scene was actually filmed on the back streets of the NQ; that manky bit between Dale Street and Spar on Piccadilly. Loads of the series gets filmed at Victoria Baths too. They were back in the city for the 5th season too but I’ve not seen it yet so can’t really say much on it.
Life On Mars
John Simm managed to travel back in time while in a coma and ended up in the 70’s where bad leather jackets, white dog poo and casual sexism were all the rage. Being set in Manchester there’s loads of the city on show, including the police station – a huge monolith of concrete and bad design – actually located in Stockport. There was also a fair whack of filming going on in Ancoats, as well as Victoria Baths – which doubled up as a morgue and Irish Community Centre.
This war movie came out to critical acclaim in 2019 and stars absolute legend Gary Oldman as fat-boy Winston Churchill, during our ‘darkest hour’ – basically when the Nazis had just defeated France and we were the only buggers left in Europe to give ’em a kicking. I’ve not seen it yet but big parts of the movie were filmed in the Town Hall – doubling up as the Houses of Parliament because the real ones are full of those idiot MPs.
The Hit Man and Her
Anyone under the age of 37 will probably never have heard of Hit Man and Her and that is a massive tragedy. The concept was genius – basically each week Pete Waterman left his train set at home and visited a club somewhere in the UK, played some records while Michaela Strachan messed about and played games with a variety of pissed up blokes with terrible hair and massive silk shirts. They came to visit Manchester in 1990 and they went to Royale (which later became MTwo and Coliseum). You can watch some of this right here. There’s also a brilliant one at The Hacienda in 1989 which features some of the best dancing known to man.
Robert Downey Jnr played Sherlock Holmes in Guy Richie’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation, and loads of the movie was filmed in and around the Northern Quarter and the Town Hall. I don’t know what Robert thought of Manchester when he came to visit though, I can only expect that he got a few pasties from Greggs, did some karaoke down The Millstone and enjoyed a big, juicy donner kebab down Rusholme.
The whole of Saddleworth and Stalybridge went absolutely crazy in 1978 when they heard the news. Superstar gerbil lover Richard Gere was set to visit our small corner of the globe to film Marathon Man director John Schlesinger’s latest – Yanks. A film about a group of Americans who end up in small-town England before Operation Overlord (D-Day) in 1944, following the romances of three of the GI’s and the bored English housewives. The film was a bit rubbish and was a massive flop but you can see the rather beautiful scenery in the area and once a year you’ll still find a ‘Yanks’ themed day down in Saddleworth, where everyone gets dressed up in WWII gear and gets hammered.
For a sitcom revolving around the lives of a group of students in Manchester there’s a surprising amount of accurate details and locations in Fresh Meat, probably down to the insider knowledge of star Jack Whitehall who actually went to university here and lived in Fallowfield for a few years. Their local boozer is the Kings Arms in Salford, while the streets of Didsbury double up for their student digs. It also features some up-and-coming Manchester actors too – but you’ll have to keep a keen eye out for them – as they’re only actually on screen for about 1.3 seconds.
A Monster Calls
I’m absolutely fuming that Sigourney Weaver was filming so close to my house and I didn’t go and try and chat her up. She was filming A Monster Calls in Didsbury a few years back, and although she probably knew that I lived close by – she was likely too shy to pop round for a glass of cold Vimto and a KitKat. Ah well. I’ve not seen the film but it’s based on a book by Patrick Ness, who has written some pretty good books so maybe give it a try.
Another Netflix thriller here and another Harlan Coben book that’s been transported from America to the North West of England. This one stars Michael C. Hall (aka Dexter) and revolves around the disappearance of his daughter. It’s a thrilling ride through the streets of Manchester city centre, with Night and Day on Oldham Street doubling up perfectly as a seedy night club, and the streets of the NQ acting as the perfect maze for an on-foot chase. There are also extensive scenes filmed near that Community Centre on Oldham Road in Miles Platting plus a fair whack of others. This one is actually much better than The Stranger too.
I remember heading down to the NQ when I was at college to see Jude Law and his widows peak, pretending to be a handsome, womanising playboy on the streets of New York. He really struggled though, standing on the corner of Thomas Street and High Street on a cold Manchester afternoon, because he was a right miserable git and wouldn’t come over to me so I could take a picture on my Sony Ericsson T60. I’ve not seen the film in absolutely ages but the scene is a bit of a blink and you’ll miss it kinda thing.
24 Hour Party People
For a film revolving around Anthony Wilson, Factory Records, New Order and the Hacienda, there’s obviously loads of Manchester in there for everyone to see. Most of the city gets filmed at some point including Whitworth Street and The Ritz, that canal bit down the side of Oxford Road, Dry Bar and even vast stretches of Oxford Road. What’s really annoying though is that when you know the city, the editing makes it really distracting – seeing the Happy Mondays walking the wrong way down the street or driving down the wrong road.
Anyone who is old enough to remember Cracker will also remember that it features many areas of the city centre in its pre-IRA bomb glory. If you can manage to see past Fitz’s massive belly, you can catch a glimpse of the city before it was completely renovated, and my word – it was depressing. The place you’re going to see the most of is the police station where Fitz lends a hand and shags around – which is that building behind The Printworks – Federation House on Federation Street. As a little extra bonus, Christopher Eccleston was stabbed by Robert Carlyle on the most South Manchester street imaginable.