Children Of Men | 2006
Alfonso Cuarón’s masterly film of PD James’s novel sees the world collapsing into anarchy after the human race is mysteriously stricken with infertility.
It begins in London with a breathtaking, real-time single take, set on a grungily polluted Fleet Street, EC4, linking the eastern end of The Strand to Ludgate Circus and St Paul’s Cathedral, where cycle-taxis ply their trade past buildings covered in animated ads.
142 Fleet Street (which used to be the King and Keys pub until it closed in 2007, to become Mexican restaurant Chilango) was the ‘Caf Fine’ coffee bar in which Theo Faron (Clive Owen) hears about the death of Baby Diego – the youngest person in the world – and which subsequently gets blown up by underground agitators. It’s said that author PD James can be glimpsed in a cameo appearance watching the TV news, but I can’t spot her.
The building alongside, outside which Theo stops to fortify his coffee, is Peterborough Court, long time home of The Daily Telegraph back in the day when Fleet Street was the heart of the UK’s newspaper industry. A little further along from Peterborough Court stands the black glass deco block which housed the offices of The Daily Express, and provided the major backdrop for another apocalyptic sci-fi, 1961’s The Day The Earth Caught Fire.
He’s off to work in the glum ‘Ministry of Power’, which turns out to be Lawrence Hall of the New Royal Horticultural Halls, Greycoat Street, Westminster. Its towering concrete arches may be familiar from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and The Saint, among other films, in both of which it stood in for ‘Berlin Airport’.
Alresford is one terminus of the Mid Hants Railway, usually referred to as the Watercress Line, after the one-time transportation of watercress into London from the beds in Alresford. This heritage railway was rescued from extinction by a band of volunteers who, in the Seventies, were raised enough money to re-open the line as a visitor attraction.
The home of dropout Jasper, who seems to be loosely modelled on cartoonist Steve Bell who provided Jasper’s satirical artwork, is in the heart of Bourne Woods, near Farnham in Surrey. The woods have also been seen in Gladiator, The Wolfman, Dark Shadows and War Horse among many other screen appearances.
Next day, on his way to work, Theo is seemingly oblivious to scenes of urban chaos with caged illegal immigrants, angry graffiti and the flats of James Hammett House on Ravenscroft Street at Hackney Road, Hackney E2, being ransacked in the relentless pursuit of these ‘illegals’. He himself is soon caught up in the troubles when he’s abducted by a group of underground activists calling themselves the Fishes.
The strange ‘ribbed’ building in which he’s held is the Number 3 Slip, one of five remaining covered slips (the slipways on which ships were once built) at Chatham Historic Dock, in Chatham, Kent. The dockyards have also been seen in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and smash musical Les Misérables.
It turns out that Theo’s old flame Julian (Julianne Moore) is part of the organisation and has a big favour to ask of him. Needing transit papers for a ‘fugi’, a fugitive young woman called Kee, she believes Theo’s well-connected cousin Nigel has some sway with the authorities.
Freed by the Fishes Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Patric (Charlie Hunnam), he’s dropped off at the junction of Cable Street and Dock Street, E1, beneath the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) line, near Tower Gateway in the East End.
Reluctantly, Theo visits his cousin who holds a prominent position running a project called the ‘Ark of the Arts’. Accompanied by a blast of King Crimson, Theo is driven along a scruffily bustling Great Scotland Yard, Westminster SW1, between Northumberland Avenue and Whitehall.
This stretch of road will be familiar to fans of the Harry Potter films, as it’s where the phone-box entry to the ‘Ministry of Magic’ stood in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It’s also piled up with sandbags to appear as war-torn WWII London in Atonement.
At the top of Whitehall, passing through Trafalgar Square, past a wailing crowd of Repenters, Theo is checked through at security gates alongside Admiralty Arch, the entrance to The Mall at the southwest corner of the Square. The grand archway is the backdrop to a much pleasanter scene in Howards End, which seems to feature every existing horse-drawn vehicle in London.
The exterior of the ‘Ark of the Arts’, in which Nigel (Danny Huston) salvages and accumulates the world’s great art treasures, is the old, disused Battersea Power Station, on the south bank of the Thames alongside Chelsea Bridge, but now boasting its own, digitally-added, river crossing. The power station, currently no more than a shell, has provided a convenient location for the likes of The Dark Knight, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus and the 1995 Richard III with Ian McKellen.
The film is visually packed with all kinds of cultural references, and you’ll notice the inflatable pink pig tethered to one of the old power station chimneys from the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals, while the Ark’s interior houses Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s Guernica and street artist Banksy’s image of two policemen kissing.
This interior is the vast Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, Bankside, another of London’s disused, monumental power stations, but one that’s already found a fantastically successful new purpose as an art gallery. Tate Modern is also featured in Woody Allen’s 2005 drama Match Point.
Theo is handed a flyer about a missing dog – a coded invite from the Fishes – while he’s enjoying dog racing at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, Plough Lane, in Morden SW17.
He’s directed to a double decker bus, where Julian takes him to meet Kee, the woman who needs the transit papers. They alight from the bus on Cheshire Street, at Three Colts Corner, E2 – just yards away from the offices of ‘Porn King’ Hatchet Harry in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – and cross the narrow footbridge over the rail lines to meet up with Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and her protector Miriam (Pam Ferris) on Fleet Street Hill at Pedley Street, just off the East End’s famous Brick Lane and its irresistible curry houses.
The steps here on Pedley Street are a regular feature in London hardman movies including Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels again, the violent Gangster No1 and Antonia Bird’s Face. Legend has it that just running down these steps can double your testosterone levels. True.
Now involved with the transport of Kee to ‘Canterbury’, Theo is in the car when it comes under attack from rioters in one of the most amazingly staged single-shot scenes ever filmed, filmed back on the road through Bourne Woods.
The farm used as a safe house, and where Theo is staggered to discover that Kee is pregnant, is Stockers Farm alongside Stockers Lake, on private land at the west end of Stockers Farm Road, south of Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire.
Discovering that the fanatical Fishes want to take Kee’s baby to use as a propaganda tool, Theo, Kee and Miriam make their escape from the farm. Their aim is to get the young mother to the coast at ‘Bexhill’, where a waiting boat can take her to the safety of the ‘Human Project’, a legendary sanctuary in the ‘Azores’.
The risky strategy involves getting themselves arrested and sent to ‘Bexhill Refugee Camp’, from which they’ll need to escape. The camp is made up of several locations, none of which is in Bexhill, on the East Sussex coast.
The nighttime arrival at the camp, where Miriam has to sacrifice herself after Kee’s waters unexpectedly break (and with the not-too-subtle visual references to Abu Ghraib), is Bruneval Barracks, part of Montgomery Lines on Pennefathers Road alongside the A325, in Aldershot, Hampshire.
The Montgomery Lines (named in honour of WWII hero Viscount Montgomery of Alamein) is a complex four barracks, each commemorating a famous airborne action of World War II: Arnhem, in Holland; Bruneval, near Le Havre; the Normandy Invasion; and the Rhine Crossing.
Bruneval Barracks also doubles for ‘Moscow’ where Bond tracks down Yusef, the man who betrays Vesper, in Quantum Of Solace.
The chaotic camp interior, with its market and food stalls, is Royal Connaught Park, Bushey, east of Watford in Hertfordshire.
Formerly The Royal Masonic School for Boys, which closed its doors in 1977, the empty buildings provided locations for films including the 1957 film of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim and for Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life. Since filming, it’s been redeveloped as private luxury apartments.
Kee gives birth in the camp and, during the confusion of an uprising, she and Theo manage to escape, holing up temporarily in an abandoned bank building, which is actually Greenwich London College in the town centre of Woolwich, at the junction of Calderwood Street and Thomas Street, SE18. They eventually flee through the carnage on Calderwood Street.
Kee and the baby are taken by the Fishes, but Theo tracks them down to a highrise apartment block, which was the accommodation block at the now-closed RAF Upper Heyford base in Oxfordshire (with a few extra storeys digitally added). In one of the film’s most moving scenes, the astonishing presence of a newborn baby brings all hostilities to a temporary halt. Upper Heyford was previously seen as the US air force base in in 1983 Bond movie Octopussy.
Finally, it’s back to Royal Connaught Park, for the ‘Water Authority Building’, with its subterranean channel which leads them to the open sea.