Written by James Peak on Feb 2, 2010. Posted in On Location

Sherlock Holmes stays true to its London roots

Guy Ritchie’s global smash-hit, Sherlock Holmes, filmed principally in London. Robert Downey-Junior’s job was to reinvent Holmes for the 21st Century, but Production Manager Giles Edleston’s challenge was to bring Victorian London to the screen in a “bigger, louder and shinier” way than had ever been seen before.

Edleston, Location Manager and confirmed Londonophile, sees London as a treasure trove of period gems just waiting to be discovered. But there are other concerns when planning a shoot of this nature: not least the city’s infrastructure and the support from the administrative powers. So, is London a pleasant place to film a USD100 million period action blockbuster?

“There were never any discussions about not filming in London, it was definitely the place for us. London is Sherlock Holmes’ city. But as an explicitly action-led film, London needed to be bigger and better than in previous incarnations. We needed locations instantly identifiable as London with all the landmarks.”

But is it true that the bigger the project the more London opens for you?

“A film crew on this scale has it’s own centre of gravity, and both Film London and the City of Westminster were ceaselessly helpful. They helped us tie up lots of beautiful places, and helped a lot with the logistics.”

Edleston spent much of 2008 and 2009 scouting for the film. He realised that Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a park area in the heart of the legal district of London, was the perfect place to base such a big filming unit. It is a stone’s throw from locations like The United Grand Lodge of England, aka ‘The Freemason’s Hall’, and St Bartholemew’s Church in Smithfield, where much of the principal photography took place:

“At the Freemason’s Hall they were amazingly helpful… we had to do several set ups in there. Architecturally we had to hide some things dating back to the 1930s, but in terms of stature and scale it was perfect for the opening scene.”

Tracy Holroyd-Smith, of The Westminster Events, Films and Contingency Planning Service, remembers the shoot as a highlight:

“We worked on lots of London’s globally recognisable locations, like Piccadilly Circus and Regent St, and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, The Freemason’s Hall (which required us to work across two boroughs - Camden and Westminster). But as well as these, the production required a horse and carriage chase sequence through London, and lots of bustling street scenes. We helped clear streets of modern paraphernalia, like cars and street signs and railings, and we liaised with the police to make the shoot schedule possible.”

Asked why international producers still favour London, when there are so many cheaper cities around to film in, Tracy is very clear:

“Productions come here for the sheer quality of the city and it’s evocative history. We have all sorts of architecturally resonant streets in Westminster - Georgian, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian, 1930s, art-deco, you name it! Plus we have the infrastructure to get these productions on the screen in an authentic way.”

Adrian Wootton, Chief Executive of Film London, who were approached by the producers in summer 2008 for assistance, is very proud of his agency’s involvement:

Sherlock Holmes is a fantastic example of what can be achieved using a co-ordinated approach to filming in the capital. The final film is a brilliant London-shot feature which will be seen millions all over the world.”

Film London provided a dedicated liaison to the project from the outset, providing guidance and support, including negotiating permission for the unit to film at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and delivering a crucial shot that required the whole of Westminster Bridge and half of Parliament Square to be clear. So, does Edleston have any favourite period locations that needed nothing doing to them?

“The Reform Club, in Pall Mall was the restaurant where Holmes has a glass of wine thrown in his face by Dr. Watson’s fiancée. We had to do absolutely nothing to this location apart from adding some tables and chairs. It’s a piece of Victorian England right in the heart of London.”

Close liaison between Giles Edleston and these London agencies has paid dividends for the style of the film, contributing much to it’s critical and commercial success, resulting in Warner Brothers’ elementary decision to fast-track a sequel into production for a 2011 release.

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