Have you ever been to Manchester City? Most likely 4 out of 5 readers of this article have never and will never visit it. Still, if you ever did stop by this fair city in England’s midlands region, you might be surprised to find that some parts of the city seem rather familiar. Déjà vu perhaps? Nope! Most likely, it’s because you have seen it before – on the big or small screen.
Many of Britain’s most popular television shows and movies are shot in or around the city of Manchester, and if you’re an avid British film buff, it’s almost a sure bet you’ll be able to recognize some of the street scenes or exterior shots as typically Mancurian.
If you’re a Brit soap opera addict, it gets even easier to spot Manchester in the background, as alert viewers would recognize many of the buildings and/or streets used as sets, such as the stately Trafford General Hospital, which was the setting for the 1990- 1995 show Medics, while the more recent Queer as Folk is unmistakably is set in the heart of Manchester’s Gay Village.
Manchester : Good For Shows, Better for Fans
Manchester is probably one of the most filmed cities in the entire country, and is quickly earning the status – if not the glamour – of that other film capital on the American west coast. The city’s attraction to film makers is fairly easy to see: the city has some stunning buildings, the talented locals are a great draw and the shrewdly, film-friendly local authorities make life and funding a lot easier. Of course, having award-winning restaurants, riotous nightlife, and great typically English countryside all within easy reach probably helps as well.
For visitors, Manchester also has its good points, as despite not having fancy white billboards or gigantic film studios, it does have a very attractive advantage over Los Angeles: the film scene is a whole lot more accessible. This is one city where there are film crews busy shooting practically every week, particularly in the Northern Quarter, and practically everybody seems to have been an extra in one show or another, or knows someone who has.
Also unlike Los Angeles, the average visitor has a much better chance of running into (or if you prefer in the paparazzi approach, chasing after) a few celebrities, as many can be found after work tossing back a few beers in the local pubs. Want to try your luck? Quite a few celebrities live in the Salford Quay area, so take a walk around the shops there and see who you could run into! Or for a more British approach, check out the pubs near Granada Studios, order a ‘Scotch and threat’ and wait to see who might come in after work.
Big-Screen and Small-Screen Appearances
Manchester has been a popular backdrop for cinematic capers since at least the 1930s, when it was the setting for such shows as Grand Hotel and Hell is a City. In more recent years, the city has been featured in East is East (1999), 24 Hour Party People (2002) and in 2005, Millions. One of the more recent internationally screened movies was the 2002 zombie/plague flick 28 Days Later, in which viewers are treated to a memorable view of the city of Manchester blazing during the second half of the show. Another recent movie was the 2005 remake of the 60s classic Alfie, starring Jude Law (though apparently in interviews, Law forget to mention where the movie was filmed).
OK, pop quiz: which long running British afternoon television drama is set in Manchester? If you’re a Brit soap opera addict – as half of Europe sometimes seems to be – then you’ve probably guessed it: Coronation Street! This apparently unstoppable soap, which has been running for donkey’s years (well, since 1960 anyway), is filmed on a set at the well-known Granada Studios, THE biggest attraction in the city. Up until 1999, visitors could actually take a stroll down their favourite street, except on Mondays when the exterior shots were done. Unfortunately, the studios tours are no longer running, but even today people stop by to admire the cinema-like entrance to the studios and maybe try to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars!
More recent series also add polish to Manchester’s television portfolio, such as ITV’s Eleventh Hour, starring the delectable Patrick Stewart. For those who never left the seventies, you can even revisit Manchester as it (probably) was in that decade of bellbottoms and handlebar moustaches by watching theLife on Mars drama. This popular BBC copper show is set in the Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport and Salford boroughs – though due to Manchester’s love of modern development, the production crew had a devil of a time filming the series without accidentally getting some modern glass-and-concrete office block in the shot. Then let’s not forgets shows like the award-winning Shameless, Queer As Folk, and so on….
Outside Manchester: Peckforton Castle
There are plenty of cinema-related site to visit in Manchester city itself, but also almost as many in the country surrounding the city. Apart from enjoying the charming English countryside, where so many cinematic frolics have taken place, a little ways outside the city border, you’ll find Peckforton Castle, a stately mansion built by a local member of parliament in the last century. Though noted for its charm, the mansion is in fact better known for its onscreen appearances, most famously in the unforgettable Dr Who television series, which has run for so long it’s practically a British institution. The castle and the surrounding area did service as the site where the intrepid Dr Who battled the evil Sontaran to save medieval England from his nefarious schemes.
Peckforton Castle’s standing has also received a little added buffing from the Darcymania craze of a few years back, as the mansion also stood in for Mr Darcy’s Pemberley House in the closing episodes of thePride and Prejudice serial. At the time of viewing, the site must have been deluged by hopeful fans and a few years on, it’s still a pilgrimage site for Austen fans – though any visitor looking to re-enact the wet-shirt antics of Colin Firth will probably be properly admonished by the management, as the mansion is now a luxury hotel, popular for weddings and other dignified functions.
These are just the better known shows which have helped make a name for Manchester abroad – there are countless other films, series and soaps (such as Families, Where There’s Muck? etc), which are probably just as deserving of a mention, but would mean practically nothing to anyone outside of the UK. If you are a fan of British shows and want a first hand look at where some of them were filmed, give Manchester a go. And even if you never come nearer to Manchester than a drive by on the highway, you can now truthfully say you’ve seen the city – at least in celluloid.