Chiswick In Film – Location, location, location

Image above: Vanity Fair being filmed at Chiswick House Gardens in 2003

Photographs by Dennis Firminger

Feature films, TV series and commercials

More than 30 feature films have sequences which were shot in Chiswick – several of them Oscar and BAFTA winning. There have also been a number of popular TV series shot here and quite a few advertisements.

Dennis Firminger was the Film Officer for LB Hounslow for nearly 15 years (2003 – 2017), based in Chiswick Town Hall. He talked to The Chiswick Calendar about his time organising location shoots for production companies and spoke about it at the first Chiswick In Film festival in October 2022.

We are grateful to Dennis for his wealth of knowledge, but also for allowing us to reproduce his photographs.

Images above: Barclaycard Commercial 2011; Downton Abbey filming 2013 outside Chiswick Town Hall

Chiswick Town Hall

These first two photographs were taken from his office window at the front of the Town Hall, overlooking Heathfield Terrace. The chap in the curly wig is taking part in a 2011 commercial for Barclaycard. The others in 1920s costume are filming an episode of Downton Abbey in 2013.

Dennis’s role was to find and promote potential locations and raise money through the filming process, charging the film production companies fees on behalf of property owners, which included the London Borough of Hounslow. He had worked in the industry for about 30 years prior to that, in production, most of the time as a location manager.

The Town Hall was a good base; as well as being central and in an attractive location, the Town Hall was a very popular film venue.

Image above: Chiswick Town Hall chamber in Dorian Gray, 2008

Dorian Gray

The old Council Chamber, with its panelled interior, is well suited to period films. In this case Dorian Gray, shot in 2008. The Council Chamber was recreated as a Victorian artist’s studio.

Images above: Chiswick Town Hall chamber in Dorian Gray, 2008

Far from the studied decadence of Oscar Wilde’s corrupt libertine in Dorian Gray, the same room was remade a year later as the orderly schoolroom for the 2010 film based on Kasuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel Never Let Me Go.

Image above: Chiswick Town Hall chamber in Never Let Me Go, 2009

Never Let Me Go

The lead characters, played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, spend their childhood in an idyllic boarding school. One day, a new teacher, Miss Lucy, quietly informs the students of their fate: they are destined to be organ donors and will die, or “complete”, in their early adulthood.

The top floor of the Town Hall was the medical room where the operations to harvest their organs took place.

Image above: Chiswick Town Hall – the medical room in Never Let Me Go, 2009

Vanessa Redgrave, a local resident, was filmed in a TV mini-series called The Shell Seekers in 2005. Set in the 1980s, Penelope (Redgrave) is seen to be recovering from a heart attack. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn she is the daughter of Lawrence (played by Maximilian Schell), a well-known painter.

Image above: Chiswick Town Hall in The Shell Seekers 2005

The Shell Seekers

In The Shell Seekers Redgrave’s character Penelope looks back on her life as a disillusioned wife and briefly as a passionate lover, as she recovers from her heart attack. Variety magazine said Vanessa Redgrave “delivers a fine, flinty performance” in the series and compares it with her 2007 film Atonement.

Images above: Chiswick Town Hall in The Shell Seekers 2005

While Vanessa Redgrave was filming a Chiswick Town Hall she noticed a couple of paintings which she asked if she could borrow: two large paintings by Giffard Lenfestey, dated 1905, of Cornish beaches, Dennis told us.

She brought them to the attention of the producers who then asked to use them in Cornwall, where they were filming an art exhibition set in the 1940s as part of the production, which they duly did.

Image above: James Bolam, Amanda Redman and Dennis Waterman filming a scene for New Tricks outside Chiswick Town Hall 

New Tricks

Dennis Waterman seems to have filmed a lot in west London. Popular TV series The Sweeney  (1975 – 1978), Minder  (1979 – 1994 ) and New Tricks  (2003 – 2015) all have plenty of recognisably west London sequences.

Image above: James Bolam, Amanda Redman and Dennis Waterman filming a scene for New Tricks outside Chiswick Town Hall 

Here are James Bolam, Amanda Redman and Dennis Waterman filming a scene for New Tricks outside the Town Hall in Chiswick. The production team of Silent Witness  (1996 – present) have also been frequent visitors said Dennis.

Image above: Filming Inherited Marriage at Chiswick Town Hall

Inherited Marriage

This rig was for a Russian feature film called Inherited Marriage, made in 2008. Sasha is left $9 million by an American multi-millionaire. The only catch is that she has to marry his son.

Image above: Filming at Chiswick House & Gardens

Chiswick House & Gardens

The leading period location in Chiswick is Chiswick House and Gardens. We showed The Servant, the 1963 drama with Dirk Bogarde and Sarah Miles, as part of the first Chiswick In Film festival. They are two of the main protagonists – the manservant Barrett and maid Vera – in a tense relationship with upper class Tony (James Fox) and his girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig).

The scenes shot at Chiswick House are of Tony and Susan messing about in the snow-covered gardens and talking with friends inside the house where they have gone for the weekend while Susan tries to persuade Tony to sack Barrett, realising he is a malign influence. The screenplay was written by Harold Pinter (another Chiswick resident).

READ ALSO: Film star Sarah Miles makes surprise guest appearance at Chiswick In Film festival

Image above: De Lovely filming at Chiswick House & Gardens

De Lovely

The TV series Agatha Christie’s Marple, (2014 – 2013) filmed at Chiswick House Gardens in 2004, as did the cinema feature De Lovely the musical bio-pic about Cole Porter when Chiswick House Gardens doubled as Central Park, New York City.

Image above: Filming Vanity Fair at Chiswick House & Gardens

Vanity Fair

The most spectacular was Vanity Fair (2004), with Reese Witherspoon in the lead role of Becky Sharp, which took over parts of the grounds for about two weeks in 2003. The area around the temple and the Classic bridge became the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

Image above: Filming Vanity Fair at Chiswick House & Gardens

There were gas pipes laid in the lake, said Dennis, to provide the jets of flame. You can see the head and shoulders of a diver in the water in the photograph above, one of the health and safety crew.

ImageS above: Filming Vanity Fair at Chiswick House & Gardens

Reese Witherspoon was pregnant at the time of filming and it was written into her contract that the pool around the temple must be drained so there was no chance of her getting Salmonella poisoning, Dennis told us.

Image above: Filming Vanity Fair at Chiswick House & Gardens

The story is set during the years of the Napoleonic Wars. The film is based on the book by William Makepeace Thackeray, who himself went to school in Chiswick. The opening chapter describes a scene thought to be at Chiswick Square. The novel begins:

‘While the present century was in its teens, and on one sunshiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton’s academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour.’

Images above: Filming Vanity Fair at Chiswick House & Gardens

In the scenes at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Becky, who has no money of her own, is doing her best to charm her friend Amelia’s brother Joseph (“Jos”) Sedley into marrying her. The rich civil servant is home from India, where he works for the East India Company. A simple soul, not graced with good looks or charm, he falls for her completely.

Image above: Filming Auf Wiedersehen Pet at the City of Westminster Sports Ground on Hartington Road

Auf Wiedersehen Pet

These scenes, supposedly of a coup in an unidentified African country said Dennis, were filmed at the City of Westminster Sports Ground (where the Roko gym is now) on Hartington Road in 2004.

It was part of the comedy drama series Auf Wiedersehen Pet, in which a group of construction workers found work overseas, which involved them in all sorts of sticky situations. In this case the Geordie character Oz, played by Jimmy Nail, was forced to make a quick exit.

The ‘coup’ was filmed for series four. The first series (1983-4) made the actors household names, especially Tim HealyKevin Whately and Jimmy Nail, who played three Georgie brickies and Timothy Spall, the Brummie character.

Image above: Filming Rose and Maloney at Strand on the Green

Strand on the Green – Rose and Maloney

Strand on the Green crops up quite a bit in films and TV series. We showed Darling, the 1965 drama with Dirk Bogarde and Julie Christie, as part of the first Chiswick In Film festival. The film shows them wandering about the strand and peering in the windows of the cottages next to the Bull’s Head.

These photographs are from the TV series Rose and Maloney.

Image above: Filming Rose and Maloney at Strand on the Green

The ITV cop drama series saw Rose Linden (Sarah Lancashire) and Marion Maloney (Phil Davis) investigating miscarriages of justice. The strand was used as a scene of crime and a body was found in the red car.

Image above: Filming The Thick of it at Chiswick Library

Chiswick Library – The Thick of It

Chiswick Library became a Police Station in 2012 for the BBC TV series The Thick of It, filming a press scrum around a Cabinet minister who is charged with breaking the law.

Image above: Filming The Thick of it at Chiswick Library

The political satire written and directed by Armando Iannucci was first broadcast on BBC Four in 2005. It focused on a government minister, his advisers and their party’s spin-doctor, the volatile and vindictive Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi. The series continued until 2012.

Image above: Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch filming Parades End outside St Michael & All Angels Church

St Michael & All Angels Church – Parades End

St Michael & All Angels Church has hosted the cast and crew of TV series Parades End, which has been described as a highbrow Downton Abbey. Based on a series of four novels by Ford Madox Ford  written 1924 – 1928, Parades End  tells the story of three Britons whose lives are shattered by the First World War.

Here Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch deliver a delicate and emotional scene at the rear of St Michael & All Angels Church.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the main character Christopher Tietjens, who as events unfold is badly wounded in France. Rebecca Hall plays Sylvia Satterthwaite, his promiscuous and self-centred socialite wife who has married him knowing that she was already pregnant and most likely the child was not his.

Image above: Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch filming Parades End outside St Michael & All Angels Church

A tour of Chiswick’s film heritage

Dennis Firminger recorded a video for The Chiswick Calendar when he was still working as Film Officer for LB Hounslow. He took me on a tour of the Town Hall, Chiswick Library, City of Westminster Sports Ground and Chiswick House locations as well as the vicarage of St Paul’s Church, Grove Park, where many more films have been made.

Chiswick In Film festival

It sowed the seed of an idea which developed into the Chiswick In Film festival in October 2022, where The Chiswick Calendar in collaboration with Andrea Carnevali, Rob Sprackling and Chiswick Cinema put on a programme of films which have connections with Chiswick, either because sequences have been shot here or because the actors / director / producer/ designer lives here.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Film star Sarah Miles makes surprise guest appearance at the first Chiswick In Film festival

See also: Director Aisling Walsh talks about her award-winning film Maudie at the first Chiswick In Film festival

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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