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Monday April 19th 2021

Last Christmas | 2019

Last Christmas film location: Piazza, Covent Garden, London WC2
Last Christmas film location: site of the (fictitious) 'Yuletide' store: Piazza, Covent Garden, London WC2

London during the festive season is the setting for Paul Feig’s (Bridesmaids) film of Emma Thompson’s script loosely based around songs by George Michael.

Last Christmas isn’t up there with the biggest of London romcoms but it still jerks a tear or two, and Feig is clearly entranced by the city’s quirkier charms.

But first there’s a flashback to the former 'Yugoslavia', with young Katerina singing in a church choir.

Last Christmas film location: St Sofia, Moscow Road, Bayswater, London W2
Last Christmas film location: Young Katerina sings in the 'Yugoslavian' church: St Sofia, Moscow Road, Bayswater, London W2

Of course, we’re really in London. The convincingly European church is St Sofia’s Greek Cathedral, Moscow Road, Bayswater, W2.

No stranger to the screen, St Sofia’s was passed off as a ‘Russian’ church in both the 1995 Bond film GoldenEye and Ken Russell’s 1970 biopic of the composer Tchaikovsky, The Music Lovers. Its turquoise and gold Byzantine interior proved equally suitable as a royal residence in Matthew Vaughn’s 2007 fantasy Stardust.

In London properly, the adult Kate (Emilia Clarke) works as an Elf at the year-round Yuletide store in Covent Garden, run by Santa (Michelle Yeoh).

Sadly, there’s no such shop. No, there really is no shop. That’s not even an empty store festooned with Christmas decorations. A false front was built across what's no more than a passageway running between Laduree, 1 The Market, and Godiva, 2 The Market, in Covent Garden Piazza. The suspiciously spacious interior is a studio set.

Covent Garden was London’s major wholesale fruit and vegetable market until the whole operation moved to purpose-built premises in Nine Elms in 1973. The old market buildings were thankfully preserved and repurposed to become terrace cafés and boutiques stocked with designer clothes and scented candles and populated by street entertainers.

You can see the old produce market in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 thriller Frenzy.

Kate leads a somewhat chaotic lifestyle. After a one-nighter with a chap called Ed, she’s discovered next day in the shower by Ed’s understandably furious girlfriend and bumped out onto the street, which is Electric Avenue in Brixton, South London.

Made famous by the Eddy Grant song, this was the first street market to be illuminated by electric light, hence the unusual name.

Kate glumly plods her way through the market to Brixton Tube Station.

Last Christmas film location: the Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London WC2
Last Christmas film location: Kate rushes to he audition: the Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London WC2

Kate’s only elving temporarily. After work, she rushes off to theatrical auditions, hurrying through Seven Dials, but still arriving late at the Noel Coward Theatre on St Martin’s Lane in the West End.

You may remember this theatre being used as the exterior of the old 'Talk of the Town' nightclub in 2019’s Judy, with Renee Zellweger as the legendary singer.

In that film, the concert scenes were filmed elsewhere (in the Theatre Royal, Hackney) and it seems like the Noel Coward’s auditorium is destined not to make it to the big screen.

The silver art deco theatre in which Kate stumbles through a dire acapella version of My Favourite Things is the Savoy Theatre on the Strand.

Part of the Savoy Hotel complex, the theatre was originally built in1881 for impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte as a showcase for the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan (which thus became known as the Savoy operas).

Its cool deco styling is the result of a modernisation of the theatre in 1929.

Back at the Yuletide store, it’s from the window that Kate first glimpses the enigmatic Tom (Henry Golding), who begins to crop up regularly in her life.

Last Christmas film location: Cecil Court, London WC2
Last Christmas film location: Kate bumps into Tom: Cecil Court, London WC2

She bumps into him – literally – on her way home from work, still wearing her elf costume, on Cecil Court.

The narrow lane linking Charing Cross Road to St Martin’s Lane, is lined with antiquarian bookshops and stores selling prints, postcards and memorabilia.

Anthony Hopkins browses the second-hand books here in the film of stage play 84 Charing Cross Road, and Renee Zellweger as children’s author Beatrix Potter is thrilled to see her first work on sale in Miss Potter.

Cecil Court once played an important role, in the history of British cinema. Early pioneers Cecil Hepworth and James Williamson had their offices here, alongside those of film companies such as Vitagraph, Nordisk and Gaumont, earning it the nickname Flicker Alley.

Last Christmas film location: Cecil Court, London WC2
Last Christmas film location: Kate changes out of her elf costume in the doorway: Colin Narbeth, Cecil Court, London WC2

Kate attempts, discreetly, to slip out of her costume in the doorway of Colin Narbeth, 20 Cecil Court – a typically specialist store dealing in world banknotes.

From here, Tom insists on taking her on a tour around some of London’s often-missed oddities, constantly exhorting her to “Look up!”

The walk is a fascinating as it is geographically improbable.

Last Christmas film location: Brydges Place, London WC2
Last Christmas film location: Tom shows Kate "the narrowest passage in London": Brydges Place, London WC2

Initially they’re not too far from Cecil Court as they pop out into Brydges Place which Tom claims is the narrowest passage in London (actually it’s the second narrowest after Emerald Court in Bloomsbury).

Oddly, they appear right in the middle of the passage. If they’d approached in the more usual manner from Bedfordbury you might have recognised its entrance as the way to Topotrepolovsky’s Fix-It shop in Mary Poppins Returns.

Last Christmas film location: Mice Sculpture, Philpot Lane, London EC3
Last Christmas film location: the carved mice: Mice Sculpture, Philpot Lane, London EC3

Instead of exiting onto St Martin’s Lane alongside the Coliseum Theatre (where Brydges Place comes out), they emerge onto Philpot Lane, over in the City of London, EC3, the business district. It’s here that Kate is shown the tiny statues of two mice and a piece of cheese high up on the wall of 23 Eastcheap.

Even when you know where the carving is, it’s easy to miss. The dubious but colourful legend is that it commemorates the death of two workmen in 1862, after they fell from scaffolding following an altercation over a cheese sandwich. It was later discovered the missing sandwich had been eaten by mice

Last Christmas film location: Lombard Street, London EC3
Last Christmas film location: the grasshopper sign: Lombard Street, London EC3

From here it’s on to Lombard Street, and number 68 where you can see that giant grasshopper sign outside what used to be an office of Martins Bank.

Houses in Lombard Street were not numbered until 1770. Before that, they were distinguished by signs, the grasshopper being the emblem of Tudor financier Sir Thomas Gresham.

This sign really does date from 1563 (more than 100 years before the Great Fire of London) and marked a goldsmith's owned by Gresham, which was later taken over by the bank, which went on to adopt the insect as its own symbol.

After this diversion into the City of London, Kate and Tom are soon back to the West End and that magical little green space which hardly anyone knows about.

Last Christmas film location: Phoenix Garden, Stacey Street, London WC2
Last Christmas film location: the secret garden: Phoenix Garden, Stacey Street, London WC2

It’s the Phoenix Garden, 21 Stacey Street, off the eastern end of Shaftesbury Avenue, created in 1984 on an old WWII bomb site. This urban wildlife garden has very thin rubble-filled soil and benefits from the urban "heat island" effect due to its Central London location, enabling half-hardy plants to thrive. It's also home to the West End's only colony of frogs. It's run entirely by volunteers, so if you visit, you may want to make a small donation.

There are a few more glimpses of London by night: Kate waiting for her bus on Regent Street, opposite Hamleys toy store (the department store seen at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut); and sitting with Tom on a bench on the Strand in front of the entrance to famed restaurant Simpson’s-in-the-Strand (sorry, there isn’t really a bench here).

Kate tucks into junk food while sitting on the Thames Embankment at the foot of Cleopatra’s Needle, between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges. This is a genuine Egyptian obelisk, erected in Heliopolis around 1450BC and presented to the UK in 1819 by the-then Egyptian ruler, Muhammad Ali.

You can see this monument again in a romantic comedy from a very different era, Stanley Donen’s 1958 Indiscreet, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

And now (apart from ‘Yugoslavia’ of course) comes the film’s biggest cheat with the apparently nearby ice rink into which the pair sneak.

This is the rink at Alexandra Palace, way up north in Muswell Hill, London N22, standing on a high spot offering panoramic views over Central London.

Opened in as an entertainment and sports venue in 1873, and affectionately known as 'Ally Pally', it was destroyed by fire within two weeks of opening. After being rebuilt, its elevated position made it ideal to become home of the BBC's first regular public television service in 1936, broadcasting for 20 years. Its antenna mast still stands, now used for local terrestrial television and commercial radio.

Damaged by yet another fire in 1980, the building’s burnt-out shell was used (in 1984) as 'Victory Square' in Michael Radford's adaptation of 1984, with Richard Burton and John Hurt.

Ally Pally has been fully restored. Apart from its spectacular Great Hall and West Hall (used for exhibitions, concerts, and conferences), there's a pub and palm court. The ice rink is a late addition, added in 1990.

Last Christmas film location: Skipwith Buildings, Portpool Lane, Holborn, London EC1
Last Christmas film location: Kate crashes with her friends: Skipwith Buildings, Portpool Lane, Holborn, London EC1

The apartment where Kate briefly crashes with friends, until another disaster obliges her to move on, is Skipwith Buildings, part of the Bourne Estate on Portpool Lane in Holborn, EC1.

Near to the estate is Leather Lane Street Market, where Kate enjoys a day out with her mum (Emma Thompson). It's claimed the old market dates from 1666 when street stalls were set up to serve residents fleeing the Great Fire. With fashion, household items and a bewildering array of street food, the market is open Monday to Friday.

‘St Benedict’s’, the homeless shelter where Tom helps out with the nightshift, is St Mary’s Church, Wyndham Place in Marylebone, and it really does work with the homeless.

Last Christmas film location: St Mary's Church, Wyndham Place, Marylebone, London W1
Last Christmas film location: the homeless shelter where Tom works: St Mary's Church, Wyndham Place, Marylebone, London W1

Not far away from here is The Trader’s Inn, 52 Church Street, the pub in which Kate later drowns her sorrows after a calamitous mess up.

Tom lives in what used to be one of London's poor and neglected areas, lately revived to become a trendy and highly desirable neighbourhood. It's Spitalfields in the heart of the East End.

His oddly minimalist flat is 6a Cheshire Street, just off Brick Lane, the heart of the local Bengali community, and rightly famous for its inexhaustible number of Indian restaurants and curry houses.

The old, largely undeveloped, streets are a natural for the screen. Just along Cheshire Street you’ll find ‘Harry the Hatchet’s place from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and the pub from Hobbs and Shaw (which was once owned by the notorious Kray twins – see the story of the notorious 60s gangsters in 2015 film Legend, with Tom Hardy as both brothers).

One location that’s quite out of the way is the semi-detached home of Kate’s parents.

Last Christmas film location: Malabar Street, Millwall, Isle of Dogs, London E14
Last Christmas film location: the home of Kate's parents: Malabar Street, Millwall, Isle of Dogs, London E14

It’s on the Isle of Dogs, not really an island but a huge bite taken out of South London by a meandering loop of the River Thames. Once marshy wasteland, the area was drained in the 17th century to become a major trade centre when it became home to the city’s docks.

After the docks were closed down in the 1970s and 80s, a massive redevelopment saw the Docklands reborn as an upscale business hub centred around Canary Wharf.

South of this high-rise mini-Financial District, the sad little house, overshadowed by its neighbours’ extravagant Christmas lights, is 2 Malabar Street in Millwall, E14, the southwest quadrant of the ‘Isle’.