Expert comment: New studios continue Liverpool's relationship with silver screenMonday 14 September 2015
Dr Jacqui Miller, Head of the Department of Media and Communication, points out that Liverpool's new film studio plans are just the next chapter in the city's long association with the silver screen.
The Liverpool Echo recently reported that plans have been submitted to transform the former Littlewoods building and adjacent Liverpool Innovation Park on Edge Lane into a major film studio. This seems a perfect use for the site. The original building evokes the art deco glamour of the classical Hollywood studios, while the sprawling Innovation Park has the necessary space for building extensive sets. As someone whose career is dedicated to supporting film theory and production students gain work in the industry, I welcome the opportunities this development will provide, and look forward to building future partnerships. It is also worth reflecting on the fact that a new studio is not the beginning of Liverpool’s relationship with the film industry, but rather taking further a long-established and vibrant tradition.
Liverpool has a host of locations ideal for contemporary and period settings. The iconic Liver and Cunard buildings were recently utilised as a backdrop for the 1940s New York set Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, while the Town Hall evoked the necessary Victorian atmosphere for filming the forthcoming ITV series Houdini and Doyle, about the friendship between Arthur Conan Doyle and the master illusionist. The grittier side of Liverpool was drawn on last week during the filming of local writer Jimmy McGovern’s latest drama, Reg, starring Tim Roth, about a man whose son was killed in the second Iraq War, leading him to stand against Tony Blair in the 2005 election.
It is location shooting that has lent Liverpool-set films their air of authenticity, often capturing the urban deprivation and social tensions that have beset the city, but also its sense of community. The Arrest of Goudie (1901), perhaps the first filmed crime reconstruction, set the tone. Based on the case of Thomas Goudie, a Bank of Liverpool clerk who embezzled £170,000, it was quickly shot at the actual places involved, including the exterior of the house where Goudie went into hiding, and was first screened at Liverpool’s Prince of Wales theatre only three days after his arrest. Interestingly, no title cards were used during this silent film as it was presumed the local audience would be familiar with the story and locations. In the post-World War II era, Liverpool’s bomb sites, docklands and Chinatown gave crime dramas spaces of transformative gender and class liminality, such as The Clouded Yellow (1950) in which a girl, innocent of a murder charge, hides out in Chinatown and escapes disguised as a boy, or The Magnet (1950). The latter is unusual for taking Ealing Studios out of London, and has wonderful scenes not only of the city centre, but of New Brighton in its heyday as a thriving holiday resort. Violent Playground (1958) was a study in juvenile delinquency filmed at the Gerard Garden social housing estate, while Letter to Brezhnev (1985) which has numerous recognisable locations from Mount Pleasant to Lewis’ department store remains the archetypal 1980s social realist commentary on Thatcher’s Britain.
Of course my own favourite film shot in Liverpool has to be The 51st State (2001) if only because the screenplay was written by a Liverpool Hope student, Stelious Pavlou, whom I taught Film Studies throughout his BA American Studies. Stel devised the idea for the film whilst roaming Liverpool as a student, and alongside a film Stel made to accompany his Dissertation, I still have a video of my interview for the national TV news that was recorded in my Hope office for a feature that reunited Stel with his former tutor during the film’s launch. His success twenty five years ago demonstrates that Liverpool is a city that already has a strong foundation in filmmaking, one in which Liverpool Hope plays a part. It is very exciting that the industry will now be greatly augmented and the Media department will ensure our students seize the opportunity.