Even after living in London for ten years, it still never fails to thrill me when my city appears in a movie or TV series that I’m watching. You’d think the novelty would have worn off by now – especially because there are so many movies and TV series set in London – but it’s a spectacular city that makes for a stunning backdrop to all kinds of storylines. And whenever I see a location I know, I still shout ‘I’ve been there!’ at the telly.
Seeing London on the screen has also given me a new appreciation for the English capital, showing me corners of it I’m yet to discover on my own. And now, more than ever, my screen is a way for me to explore my city’s far-reaching corners while I can’t get to them myself.
So if you’re looking for a (virtual) escape, these movies and TV series set in London all offer a taste of what you’ll see when you can visit in the flesh:
Luther (TV Series)
I had to start with Luther because it’s one of my all-time favourite TV series set in London.
The award-winning BBC crime drama follows DCI (that’s Detective Chief Inspector) John Luther, played by the incredible Idris Elba, as he brings his own brand of policing (i.e. obsessive, and often not by the book) to London’s worst crimes.
The best part about the show is Luther’s love-hate relationship with psychopath Alice Morgan (played by Ruth Wilson), which plays out like a dark and messed-up game of cat and mouse. Addictive, thrilling, and with plenty of iconic London scenery to enjoy throughout!
28 Days Later (Movie)
I know, I know: a post-apocalyptic horror film might not sound like the best way to get a virtual tour of London, but hear me out. If you’re happy to watch something about a virus right now (I understand if it’s just not the time – I don’t know how so many people are watching Contagion on Netflix, to be honest), you’ll get to see some pretty iconic London scenes (which may look eerily similar to the city over the past few months).
You’ll be treated to deserted shots of Westminster Bridge, Houses of Parliament, the Mall, the City of London, Tottenham Court Road, Piccadilly Circus, and plenty of other landmarks, both well known and slightly more obscure.
Visually, it’s about as close to a London walking tour as you’re going to get in a film – and it’s pretty spectacular!
Notting Hill (Movie)
A classic British romantic comedy, Notting Hill is as much a declaration of love for the area of Notting Hill as it is a quirky love story between the hapless bookseller William Thacker (Hugh Grant) and American megastar Anna Scott (Julia Roberts).
Portobello Road, which is given plenty of air-time in the film (although it’s admittedly been whitewashed – the area is known for its diversity in real life), is still one of my favourite streets in London, and if you know the film well (I may or may not know the entire script word-for-word), it’s possible to spot many of the locations as you walk along the bustling market street.
Some cameo appearances include The Ritz Hotel and the beautiful Kenwood House in Hampstead.
Bodyguard (TV Series)
If you’re looking for non-stop action, the thrilling miniseries Bodyguard is a must-watch!
The story follows Police Sergeant David Budd who, after stopping a terror attack on a train, is given the responsibility of protecting an ambitious politician, Home Secretary Julia Montague. There are only seven episodes, but each one is charged with drama, intrigue and action, all set in and around London.
Eagle-eyed viewers will be able to spot the city’s skyline from the fictional police headquarters (actually the Tate Modern), Number 10 Downing Street (actually filmed on a street about a mile away, outside a building with an identical facade), streets of St Pauls, Islington, Battersea, and Ham House in Richmond. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled tour of the Capital, in hour-long instalments.
Attack the Block (Movie)
John Boyega made his film debut playing Moses in the London-based sci-fi comedy Attack the Block. Based on a council estate in South London (said to be Brixton, but filmed throughout the city), the story focuses on a teenage street gang who have to defend their home against an alien attack on Guy Fawkes Night (a very British event that celebrates, with fireworks, the failed attempt of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament).
It’s something of a cult classic, and it’s loads of fun to watch!
EastEnders (TV Series)
Love it or hate it, no one can deny that EastEnders, the soap opera that’s been running since 1985, is a British institution.
Following the lives of local residents in a fictional part of London called Walford, the show airs every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (unless filming is interrupted by, say, a global pandemic) and is watched by millions of Brits a week.
Although almost all of the filming happens in a studio, many of the locations are inspired by real places around London – for example, Albert Square, where most of EastEnders’ action takes place, was inspired by Fassett Square in the trendy area of Dalston, and the market in the show is based on Ridley Road Market in Hackney.
Bend it Like Beckham (Movie)
An oldie but a goodie, Bend it Like Beckham was a hit when I was in high school, and it remains a brilliant teen comedy to this day. It’s officially a romantic comedy, but it’s really about friendship, football (the English kind!), identity and culture.
The main character is 18-year-old Jesminder (Jess) Bhamra, brilliantly played by Parminda Nagra, who is obsessed with football (and, of course, David Beckham), but whose conservative Indian family won’t allow her to play the sport she loves. Jess finds a way to join a team, but in doing so, must lie to her family, causing all kinds of conflict.
Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers also star in this film based in Hounslow (which also happens to be the home of London’s Heathrow Airport), with scenes also set in Carnaby, Soho, and a stunning Sikh temple in Notting Hill.
Paddington 2 (Movie)
Who doesn’t love Paddington Bear? The loveable English teddy bear created by Michael Bond stars in a live-action sequel to the 2014 original film, with scenes set all across the city.
As any Paddington Bear fan would expect, Paddington Station, the location where our fluffy friend was discovered by the Brown family, is featured. But you’ll also find Alice’s Antiques (located on Portobello Road) standing in for Mr Gruber’s Antique Shop, as well as The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral and even Tower Bridge – some of London’s most iconic landmarks, all in one fun-filled film!
His Dark Materials (TV Series)
At the end of 2019, BBC released its long-awaited adaptation of Philip Pullman’s incredible fantasy adventure series, His Dark Materials.
The story centres around Lyra Bellacqua, an orphan who has been brought up in Oxford’s Jordan College, protected under the scholastic sanctuary rule. The world Lyra inhabits is similar to our own, except everyone has a Daemon, an animal representation of their spirit, which remains with them at all times. Lyra’s thrust out of the world she knows and on an exciting and terrifying adventure when her best friend Roger is kidnapped by The Gobblers.
Although the show is not set entirely in London, some of its pivotal scenes are, including some beautiful (albeit not completely real) sweeping shots over the Thames. Look out also for The Magisterium building, which looks suspiciously like the location of Buckingham Palace!
The Crown (TV Series)
I have a confession to make: I haven’t actually watched The Crown yet, although I’ve only ever heard great things about it (and it’s on my to-watch list). I couldn’t write a list about movies and TV series set in London without including it, though, because there are so many locations in the Capital that you can spot throughout the show’s three seasons.
Many of the interior scenes of Buckingham Palace were actually filmed down the road, in the opulent Lancaster House, or in the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Eltham Palace, a manor house in Greenwich, is used as a stand-in for – among other locations – the Royal Yacht Britannia and the HMSS Queen Mary. And London’s Lyceum Theatre, now home of the magical musical adaptation of The Lion King, can be seen in an episode set in the 40s.
Killing Eve (TV Series)
Now in its third season, Killing Eve has sparked many a water cooler conversation in recent years, thanks to its high-concept, action packed episodes, with wardrobes that have left us all drooling.
Although Sandra Oh (who plays Eve Polastri) and Jodie Comer (who plays the wonderfully dastardly character of Villanelle) are the official stars of the show, London definitely deserves a credit, as it’s the setting for so many memorable scenes.
Hornsey Town Hall in Crouch End becomes a cafe in Moscow, Fabric Nightclub becomes a trendy club in Berlin where a murder takes place, an event space called Banking Hall Cornhill becomes a bank (where another murder happens), and a little-known area of South-West London, New Malden, becomes Eve’s home.
This last one is particularly cool for me, personally, because I worked in New Malden for a year (and can confirm that you’ll find the best Korean food in London there!).
So there you have it – around London in 11 movies and TV series! This is by no means an exhaustive list (I mean, I haven’t even mentioned Harry Potter), because there are just too many to mention in one article.
But I’d love to hear from you: which films and TV series set in London have you watched and loved? Share them in the comments so everyone can enjoy them (and so I can add to my watch list)!
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