How important is the location of a film narrative? In most countries it is often the capital city that is the central location for most film stories. That is certainly true for the UK and France. But other cities also have distinctive locations and distinctive stories to tell. In this project we look at the history of films set in the iconic city of Liverpool.
Liverpool has been an important port since at least the 17th century and the city itself is 800 years old. Much of its wealth was created through the slave trade but its global status was mainly a 19th century phenomenon leading into the 20th century. Peak population of 840,000 was reached in 1931 and today the population is only just half that. The decline up until the last few years is part of the story.
Liverpool’s reputation as a cosmopolitan and in some ways ‘not English’ city derives from its geographical location at the mouth of the Mersey looking westward to Ireland and then across the Atlantic. Some have argued that Liverpool looked towards New York as its twin rather than back up the Ship Canal to Manchester, its rival. Because of the history of the slave trade and then the combination of the cotton trade, emigration and Empire from the mid-19th century, Liverpool had one of the earliest Black communities in the UK and also one of the first Chinatowns. It also attracted Welsh and Irish migrations, each of which have contributed to a unique local dialect and a distinctive culture.
Outside of the (over) concentration of architectural gems and spread of galleries and ‘places of cultural activity’ in London, Liverpool is the leading British city for listed buildings and galleries, accompanying the buildings of its waterfront, two cathedrals and Georgian terraces. The architecture and the geographical location are one of the attractions for filmmakers, alongside the wit of the local people in a city of comedians, musicians and performers of all kinds. Liverpool’s history and its present is full of stories and these films tell those stories:
2017 Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
2010 Route Irish
2009 Nowhere Boy
2009 Under the Mud
2008 Of Time and the City
1997 Under the Skin
1992 The Long Day Closes
1991 Blonde Fist
1989 Shirley Valentine
1988 Distant Voices, Still Lives
1987 Business As Usual
1987 Coast to Coast
1985 No Surrender
1985 Letter to Brezhnev
1969 The Reckoning
1965 Ferry Cross the Mersey
1959 Beyond This Place (Web of Evidence)
1958 Violent Playground
1950 The Clouded Yellow – the last part of the film covers Chinatown, the Overhead Railway and the Docks
1950 The Magnet
1938 Penny Paradise
Please suggest other titles for inclusion. We’ve chosen films that are primarily set in Liverpool, rather than just filmed there. The city’s buildings have often stood in for other cities. Since 1974 the boundaries of ‘Liverpool’ have been changed. At least one of the titles above is set in what is now ‘Merseyside’. Should we add others? There are blog posts for each of the titles with links as indicated above. We will try to review the others over time.
’51st State’ (UK-Canada, 2001) directed by Ronny Yu and starring Samuel L Jackson. Should’ve been good…