City of stars

By Tirion Davies

Did you realise that Sherlock’s Mind Palace is actually Cardiff University’s Main Building? Or that Sarah Jane’s house from Sarah Jane Adventures is actually in Penarth? Did you realise that the Hydra base Bucky Barnes is held at in Captain America: The First Avenger isn’t in Germany, but actually Caerwent? And that Pam and Mick’s house from Gavin & Stacey isn’t Essex at all, but rather Dinas Powys? Wales has been used for film and television sets for years, but recently – more notably than ever – Wales and Cardiff have been an ally in the Hollywood filmmaking process.

These past few weeks, Cardiff’s been abuzz with the news that a Hollywood film crew have shut down Newport Road and transported it to a New York road, with American-style traffic lights and New York Police Department-branded cars. It was hard to walk around Cardiff city  center these past few weeks and not hear the whispers about the Hollywood heartthrob walking around the city. and the Hollywood fog felt across the streets of Cardiff. Filming for a new Mark Wahlberg blockbuster, Hollywood has taken over Newport Road and filming is taking  place outside of Mercure Holland House Hotel. Luckily for some guests who booked their stay at the hotel long before the Hollywood star touched down in the ‘Diff, they may get a glimpse of the Hollywood actor himself, as the hotel remains open for guests.

Gunfire, an Aston Martin car being flipped and New York Polic Department cars being covered in rubble and caught up in car crashes aren’t exactly everyday occurrances. Despite the fact filming for the blockbuster is set to take place across the United Kingdom, scenes filmed in the Welsh capital are being described as a “major sequence” in the film’s plot.

The film, set to be released late next year, is about a man who discovers his hallucinations are in fact visions from a past life. Look out for Infinite in cinemas, the adaptation of the 2009 novel, The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz, as it’s sure to make a few Cardiff-natives perk up in their seats at the sight of the Mercure during a (supposed) New York police chase scene.

But it’s not completely abnormal that Cardiff is being used for filming purposes. Many born and bred in Cardiff would have barely bat an eyelid when they were told their bus would be diverted in order to avoid disrupting the illusion. New York doesn’t exactly have green and orange buses with place names like ‘Llandaff’ on them, I’m afraid.

Wales is used to production crews at this point. A few years ago, during the filming of Sherlock’s third series, it was hard to walk around the university’s Cathays campus and not see a multitude of trailers. Being a BBC Cymru Wales production, many are aware Sherlock films across Wales. Cardiff University is a backdrop for other television programmes, too. Since Sherlock’s last appearance on our television screens, the university’s Main Building has also been used for scenes between the Doctor and Bill in Doctor Who as well as a main set used for televsion programmes such as Requiem and Class. Cardiff University is open to being used as sets, and it’s rather encouraged by the university.

Many Cardiff University students have even appeared in the hit Netflix tv-show Sex Education, with its filming taking place across South Wales and Cardiff, despite the rather American high school theme the series seems to have.

Broadway superstar and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda recently revealed his love of South Wales, having spent months filming for the star-studded television adaptation of Phillip Pulman’s His Dark Materials this past summer. Wales can sometimes be forgotten about in relation to the United Kingdom, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s discussion about Wales helped to further magnify our place on the world map. The actor and script writer was enamoured with our castles and our landscapes, and even tweeted about some Welsh myths and legends otherwise forgotten about outside of Cymru. If we’re lucky, Lin-Manuel Miranda may even pitch a Disney film about a Welsh myth (God knows we have plenty to choose from) – he must have an in with Disney, after his involvement in the music of the 2016 animation Moana.

Wonder Woman 1984, the long-awaited sequel to the 2017 fan favourite has decided on Wales as a filming destination, filming having already begun in North Wales this year. Because Wales seems to have a landscape perfect for any kind of film.

You know that tear-jerking scene on the beach in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (you know the one)? It was filmed on a Pembrokeshire beach. The beautiful ‘English’ town Lou lives in (with that picturesque castle) during the film adaptation of JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You? Cymru, not England – the town was actually Pembroke.

A 2007 film, 28 Weeks Later, about repopulating a small section of London after a rare virus, has a scene within London’s Wembley Stadium. But the stadium seen in the film isn’t Wembley at all – it’s Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. 

But Cardiff is also being used more and more frequently in television and film. Often the city is used as an alternative to London. Obvious examples of this are Doctor Who and Sherlock – and it does the trick; most Americans won’t be able to tell the difference between Cardiff’s Queen Street and London’s Bond Street. A scene from popular American sitcom The Big Bang Theory had its characters discussing Doctor Who and mentioning “for someone who has a machine that can travel anywhere in time and space, Doctor Who sure does have a thing for modern-day London”. Ironic, as ‘modern-day London’ is actually the Welsh capital city. There’s even a scene during David Tennant’s run as the 10th Doctor, filmed in front of Cardiff Bay’s Wales Millennium Centre, which many on the internet believed was London, despite the site becoming an iconic part of the Torchwood series – which was based in Cardiff Bay.

Wales is becoming a popular filming location amongst Hollywood producers. But within Wales, Cardiff has always been a popular venue for those hoping for an urban feel. Of course, the BBC drama Torchwood was based and filmed primarily in Cardiff Bay as part of the Doctor Who franchise.

The programme garnered such a response that following the beloved character Ianto Jones’ death on the show, fans flocked to Mermaid Quay to pay their respects to the fictional character. A few years ago, the management of Mermaid Quay even created a plaque to formerly mark the commemoration of the character. Eddie’s Diner, and American-themed restaurant also in Mermaid Quay even boasts photos on its wall of its time as a set for Doctor Who episodes based in the US.

More recently, Keeping Faith (and its Welsh-language counterpart Un Bore Mercher) filmed various scenes of the second series in Cardiff, as opposed to the West Wales scenery more commonly found in the first series.

But who could forget of course, the likes of programmes such as Casualty. Long running, with its filming hub mainly in Tiger Bay, Casualty finds a new section of Cardiff and the Vale to visit each week for a dramatic storyline. The show has been loyal to Cardiff for years, and the showrunners must be glad the show’s filming in Cardiff – there’s an abundance of shooting locations.

Of course, who could forget Gavin & Stacey? The show that swept the nation, and swept the globe, too – it made James Corden a superstar. The show has been brilliant for drumming up visitors in Barry, a part of Wales otherwise left alone for years. With the long-awaited return this Christmas, the cast and crew of Gavin & Stacey returned to Cardiff and the Vale this summer when it comes to filming locations at this point – it’s no surprise Gavin & Stacey were eager to snap up Cardiff and the Vale filming locations for their much-anticipated return to our screens.

Wales is beautiful, there’s no doubt about it. The combination of traditional in many parts of Wales, and the modern in cities like Cardiff mean that film crews flock. With streets that aren’t too overcrowded, and landscapes hard to find anywhere else in the world, it’s not too surprising that the movies have seen their chance to use Wales to their advantage.

Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan tourism has even grown over the years as a result – with tours of the Cardiff Bay sets available, and a Gavin & Stacey tour running around the Vale of Glamorgan and even many jumping at the opportunity to visit cult-classic locations from Doctor Who and Sherlock.

We’ve gifted Hollywood many of our finest actors, and in return it’s made us its ally in the filmmaking process. Although we’ve lost Catherine Zeta Jones and Anthony Hopkins to the allure of Los Angeles, we’ve earned the Hollywood seal of approval when it comes to filming locations.

Even if there are many films and television programmes shooting in Cardiff each year, it’s doubtful it’ll ever stop being cool that it’s possible to stumble upon a New York-styled  street in the heart of Wales on a Tuesday afternoon.

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