Fun fact: Britain’s first films were made in Brighton. Little known cinema pioneer George Albert Smith purchased one of the Lumière’s new-fangled camera-thingys shortly after the famous Paris exhibition in 1895 and went on to make a series of experimental short films. Since then the home of salty air and saucy postcards has been a regular on the big screen. Here are just a few of the most famous films to grace Brighton’s sunny shores.
Quadrophenia? Who’s that? (Insert comedy drum roll here). Yes, Pete Townshend & co.’s mod-rock opera spends plenty of time roaring along the Brighton front. Phil Daniels’ teen tearaway Jimmy Cooper departs from his humdrum London abode for a rebellious weekend down south. He ends up having fist-fights with leather-clad rockers in the coastal town’s dingy clubs and back streets – not the best tourist advert for the city. If you did happen to want to do a bit of location spotting, however, there are a few infamous haunts you can find. East Street and the old front feature prominently in many of the youths’ brawls with police, and Brighton’s Grand Hotel also pops up once or twice.
No, it’s not a sales video for the city’s famous confectionary: it’s the 1947 adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic novel and one of Britain’s best loved black-and-white films. Richard Attenborough gives arguably his finest performance as misleadingly-named local thug Pinkie. The wannabe mafioso has some illegal schemes operating out of the Brighton’s racecourse – a racket that isn’t making him many friends. At the same time, he is becoming increasingly embroiled with wide-eyed waitress Rose in an attempt to cover his tracks for an earlier murder. It doesn’t end well. Brighton’s racecourse can still be visited out to the east of the town, and the Clock Tower, station, Royal Pavilion and pier all appear in the film’s background of this thoroughly Brighton-based film.
Everybody’s favourite tennis-based rom com Wimbledon takes a brief holiday to a particularly sunny version of the south coast. Paul Bettany’s aging sports-star-come-nice-guy Peter Colt just has to get away from the pressure of the big tournament and decides his childhood home of Brighton is the best place to be. Here he is confronted by his oddball family and visited by love-interest-come-tennis-champion Lizzie Bradbury, played by Kirsten Dunst. A few scenes were shot along the Marine Parade, but other than that you will have to travel to the All England Club to do this movie’s location stomping.
Mona Lisa is a gritty film about an ex-con’s attempts to save a prostitute from her criminal employers – not to be confused with Julia Robert’s feel-good coming-of-age drama Mona Lisa Smile. Bob Hoskins plays the naïve protagonist, hopelessly fallen for Cathy Tyson’s call girl, and the pair find themselves chased around Brighton Pier by a team of mobsters. The tourist spot has rarely looked more grey and unappealing – but then nothing in Mona Lisa comes out looking particularly nice. A great film, if not a great advert for the seaside resort.
Carry On Girls
They went to the jungle; they went back to the Romans – of course the Carry On films came to Brighton. In Carry On Girls, the fictional seaside resort of Fircombe attempts to put itself on the map by holding a beauty contest. After that the plot divulges into the usual “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” that make up most Carry On films. Brighton stood in for the rainy holiday town, and many of the city’s well known landmarks – the front, the pier, the Grand Hotel – all feature. It’s not Sid James’ finest hour, but nor is it a bore: a classic British film series in a classic British town.