Southbank Centre on film: 9 movies set at our iconic buildings

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Thursday, December 20, 2018 - 15:14

From Grace Kelly to Frank Sinatra, Tom Hanks to Sir Roger Moore; over the years our stages have hosted some of Hollywood’s most famous actors, whilst a myriad of other A-Listers have graced us for the sort of premieres and award ceremonies the word ‘glitzy’ was invented for.

But it’s not just our illustrious guests who have starred on the silver-screen; Southbank Centre itself has racked up a pretty impressive list of film credits. Since they first emerged beside the Thames our iconic buildings have appeared in a host of feature films, including the following nine.

The Happy Family (1952)

Where better to start than the beginning. The Royal Festival Hall was still under construction when it appeared in the opening seconds of The Happy Family. But far from merely an establishing shot, Southbank Centre was actually the premise for this 1952 British comedy. When the construction of the Festival of Britain necessitates the demolition of the Lord family’s corner shop, they refuse to give way and accept compensation, leading to a stand-off between the family and the planners. 

Screen capture from the 1952 film The Happy Family
The construction of the Royal Festival Hall in an opening shot from The Happy Family

As Lillian Lord (Kathleen Harrison) asks in an opening scene, “Who wants a dome of discovery anyway? I know I don’t”. Along with Harrison the cast of comic actors also includes Stanley Holloway and a young George Cole playing an early Arthur Daley type, or a young Arthur Daley playing an early George Cole type, it’s hard to tell.

watch the film on BFI Player

Three Cases of Murder (1955)

It’s the second of the three murder cases that make up this 1955 triptych in which Southbank Centre features prominently. This story sees two friends; George and Edgar fall for the same woman - Elizabeth - and subsequently each find themselves as suspects for her murder, when she is later found dead. 

Screen capture from the 1955 film Three Cases of Murder
Royal Festival Hall in Three Cases of Murder. Screen capture by Phil Wilkinson of Reel Streets

Elizabeth’s relationship with George is formed here on our Riverside Terrace as the pair take a break from a concert in Royal Festival Hall. Meaning not only are we a filming location, we’re an accessory to murder. Unless Edgar did it, in which case we’re off the hook. Let’s say Edgar did it.

The Long Arm (1956)

The newly opened Royal Festival Hall was clearly a favourite of cinematographers in the 1950s, and 1956 film noir The Long Arm shows just why. The strikingly modern architecture, standing proudly alone on the South Bank made it an instantly recognisable location, and in The Long Arm it serves as the perfect scene for the picture’s dramatic denouement. It’s on Belvedere Road, and the site now occupied by The Whitehouse apartments, that Detectives Halliday and Ward conclude their sting on serial safecracker Gilson, who they’d entrapped with rumours of a sizable bounty in the Royal Festival Hall safes.

"The Long Arm Scene" with Triumph Roadster

Straight on Till Morning (1972)

Synonymous with gothic horror, the film company Hammer also turned out several psychological thrillers, including the somewhat testing Straight on Till Morning. The film follows a reserved young woman, Brenda (Rita Tushingham), who finds herself attracted to handsome stranger, Peter (Shane Briant) unaware of his psychotic tendencies.

Brenda finds Peter's dog at Queen Elizabeth Hall; screen capture by Phil Wilkinson, Reel Streets

The two characters’ paths first entwine on the brutalist terraces of our Queen Elizabeth Hall, where Brenda finds Peter’s dog; she later returns it to him, but (spoiler alert) it’s a deed that doesn’t pan out well for her, or the dog. Why must so many onscreen chance encounters at our venues end in homicide?

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

If you were running through romantic spots at Southbank Centre, you’d probably be someway down your list before you reached the concrete of the Undercroft, home of skateboarding. Yet this was the setting for one of the most memorable, and least concise, declarations of love on film. It was here in Four Weddings and a Funeral that Carrie (Andie MacDowell) is told by Hugh Grant – playing the role of Hugh Grant – that he thinks he loves her... sort of, maybe, if that isn’t too much trouble.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (9/12) Movie CLIP - I Think I Love You (1994) HD

The Boat That Rocked (2009)

Fifteen years later, Four Weddings… writer Richard Curtis was back on location at Southbank Centre with The Boat That Rocked. Perhaps not an obvious inclusion, given the film revolves around life aboard an offshore pirate radio station, however several scenes were filmed here as our St Paul’s Roof Pavilion was completely redressed to double as the office of Government Minister Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh). So well redressed in fact, that it’s completely unrecognisable, but if you’ve a keen eye you can spot a cleaner bopping away on the distinctive green carpet of Royal Festival Hall a minute into the film’s trailer (below).

The Boat That Rocked Official Trailer [HD]

In The Loop (2009)

Why go to the UN, when the UN can come to you? In Armando Iannucci’s 2009 film In The Loop, the corridors and function rooms of Royal Festival Hall made an able stand-in for the corridors of power at the UN headquarters in New York. Given that many of the scenes filmed at Southbank Centre featured the character Malcolm Tucker you’ll understand why there’s not a lot we can show you here on a site without an age restriction, but you can catch sight of Royal Festival Hall’s Green Bar in the trailer (below). It’s whilst leant against this bar that Tucker (Peter Capaldi) and Lt. Gen. Miller (James Gandolfini) have their infamously frank exchange.

In The Loop Trailer - In Cinemas April 17

Meet Me on the Southbank (2013)

Least but not last is the (presumably) budget 2013 film Meet Me on the Southbank, which is the rom com you’re probably already imagining from the title alone; and in that respect at least it doesn’t disappoint. Southbank Centre, along with our neighbours the BFI and London Eye, are the South Bank venues at which Alan and Clare meet over the course of a year-long almost-romance that shows love sadly isn’t like the movies… well, unless the movie in question is this one. In which case it’s 100% like it.

Official Trailer - 'Meet Me On The Southbank'

Man Up (2015)

Finally, yes, it's another rom com, but one that mercifully reaches above the low expectations set by its title. In Man Up Jake (Simon Pegg) is due to meet Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) on a blind date, only for Nancy (Lake Bell) to inadvertently, and then advertently, take her place. As much hilarity inevitably ensues, the pair kick off their date here at Southbank Centre, with drinks at a pop-up bar (which admittedly is very us).

Man Up (2/10) Movie CLIP - It's Been Awhile (2015) HD


Much more than just Hollywood set-dressing, Southbank Centre is a multi-venue arts centre on London’s South Bank that hosts over 5,000 events each year.

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And, if you’re looking for locations for your own film, photography or video project, Southbank Centre’s many spaces are available for hire.

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by Glen Wilson

The film location website Reel Streets was incredibly useful in compiling this piece.
visit Reel Streets