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Wednesday August 21st 2019

Brighton Rock | 2010

Brighton Rock filming location: Eastbourne Pier, Eastbourne, East Sussex
Brighton Rock location: 'Palace Pier, Brighton': Eastbourne Pier, Eastbourne, East Sussex Photograph: Wikimedia / Paul the Archivist

Rowan Joffe’s new version of Graham Greene’s novel does use real locations – but not too many in Brighton.

The 1947 film of Brighton Rock assured us that the seedy, violent Brighton “is no more”, but this revisiting of the story is set in the mid-Sixties against the background of the Mod-Rocker riots previously featured on screen in Franc Roddam’s 1979 Quadrophenia.

The presence of Phil Davis, one of the sprightly young Mods in that film, as seedy old Spicer, is a bit disconcerting.

Brighton has changed a lot over 40-something years so the less-redeveloped resort of Eastbourne, about 20 miles to the east, is largely used as a stand-in

The style of the film is meant to hark back to the classic French noirs of Jean-Pierre Melville such as Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge, but the epic widescreen format and portentous orchestral score are kilometres from the cool, jazzy fatalism of those minimalist classics.

The film does open in the real Brighton with the murder of smalltime gangleader Kite beneath the famous seafront arches along Madeira Drive, east of the town centre. Famous from the much fluffier 1953 comedy Genevieve, the arches are currently (December 2018) fenced off pending renovation.

But it doesn’t linger and, apart from Eastbourne, there’s quite a bit of London here too, masquerading as the coastal resort.

When Pinkie (Sam Riley) and the gang attend Kite’s funeral, it’s at South Ealing Cemetery, 28 Chilton Avenue, West London, and the gents’ toilet in which Pinkie tries to take revenge on Kite’s killer, Fred Hale (Sean Harris) is the old Victorian loo at West End Green on West End Lane, West Hampstead.

Brighton Rock filming location: Crocker's Folly, Aberdeen Place, Maida Vale, London NW8
Brighton Rock location: the pub in which Hale begs for help from Ida: Crocker's Folly, Aberdeen Place, Maida Vale, London NW8 Photograph: Wikimedia / Edwardx

Staying in the capital, the pub in which Fred Hale begs for help from old friend Ida (Helen Mirren) is the wonderful Crocker's Folly, 24 Aberdeen Place in Maida Vale, NW8, comes with a great, if dubious, great legend.

The former hotel, a riot of gilt and carved marble, was built in 1898 by businessman Frank Crocker. The story goes that Frank spent lavishly, on the assumption that a planned West Country railway line would terminate at Maida Vale. In a fit of despair after discovering the terminus was to be built a couple of miles away at Marylebone, he threw himself from an upstairs window.

Well, although Frank Crocker did die at the early age of 41, he passed quietly away from natural causes. Nevertheless, in 1987, the former Crown Hotel officially adopted its more colourful name.

The stunning interior is a screen natural, becoming the 'New York' writers' club in Warren Beatty's 1982 Oscar winner Reds, Victorian hangouts in two Oliver Parker-Oscar Wilde adaptations, The Importance Of Being Earnest and Dorian Gray, an ‘Oxford’ pub in 2009’s Oscar-nominated An Education and even appeared as a wartime boozer in Captain America: The First Avenger.

Brighton Rock filming location: Mornington Crescent, London NW1
Brighton Rock location: the gang's hideout in 'Brighton': Mornington Crescent, London NW1

And still in London, the gang’s hideout is Mornington Place at Mornington Crescent, at the southern end of Camden High Street, which was the IRA hideout in 1952 drama The Gentle Gunman, with Dirk Bogarde, and a rundown property run by Peter Sarsgaard in An Education.

Brighton’s Palace Pier has undergone so many (not very aesthetic) changes over the years, so Eastbourne Pier stands in. The ‘Palace Pier’ sign was a bit of real set-dressing, but Eastbourne’s slightly shorter attraction is extended a little with CGI.

It’s beneath this pier that Pinkie batters Hale to death with a rock.

Brighton’s extraordinary Royal Pavilion is tough to duplicate, so it’s in the real Pavilion Gardens that Pinkie takes Rose (Andrea Riseborough) on a date, with the ulterior motive of getting from her the slip which is needed to claim an incriminating photo.

Brighton Rock filming location: Regency Cafe, Regency Street, Victoria SW1
Brighton Rock location: the 'Brighton' mods' cafe: Regency Cafe, Regency Street, Victoria SW1

After being attacked by members of Colleoni’s rival gang on Madeira Drive (the real Brighton again), Pinkie sprints off up the steps near Royal Crescent and makes it to a local café full of mods, which gives him the opportunity to make a stylish getaway on a stolen scooter.

Brighton Rock filming location: Regency Cafe, Regency Street, Victoria SW1
Brighton Rock location: the 'Brighton' mods' cafe: Regency Cafe, Regency Street, Victoria SW1

The café is London’s, so far, unmodernised Regency Cafe, 17-19 Regency Street at Page Street, Victoria, SW1, which had previously been seen in Matthew Vaughn’s 2004 Layer Cake and in 2014's Pride.

Flushed with the bravado of youth, Pinkie goes to meet Colleoni (Andy Serkis), all-powerful boss of the rival gang, at the luxurious ‘Cosmopolitan Hotel’. The hotel exterior is that of Eastbourne’s Cavendish Hotel, 38 Grand Parade.

But the interior, where Pinkie treads dirt all over that deep pile white carpet, is that of Hedsor House & Park, Taplow, Buckinghamshire.

Now an events venue, Hedsor has also appeared in seen as the main location for Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet, as well as in Legend, The Golden Compass (as Nicole Kidman’s home), the Johnny Depp misfire Mortdecai, The Boat That Rocked and Red 2.

To prevent the naïve Rose from being forced to give evidence against him, Pinkie cynically proposes marriage. Possibly the least romantic wedding ceremony on film takes place at the art deco Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, London E8.

Brighton Rock filming location: Cloth Fair, Smithfield, London
Brighton Rock location: Rose buys a new dress': Cloth Fair, Smithfield, London

Gaining confidence as a lawful spouse, Rose nicks £10 from Pinkie’s stash. The dress shop from which she treats herself to a new pink frock is actually Bowling Bird café, 44 Cloth Fair in London’s Smithfield, alongside the famous Priory Church of St Bartholomew The Great, a veteran of countless films including Four Weddings And A Funeral, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and Suffragette.

The climax takes place, not on Brighton Pier but, more dramatically, on the towering cliffs at Beachy Head, which provide a fittingly vertiginous ‘fall from grace’ for the doomed Pinkie.