Rail link threatens film location with unhappy ending

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Britain's finest period film location is likely to be destroyed. One of the last surviving parts of Dickensian London, where Howard's End, 101 Dalmatians and The French Lieutenant's Woman were shot, will be demolished if Railtrack builds a new viaduct.

Maria Moruzzi has made few concessions to modernity in the 37 years that she has run the Borough Cafe on Park Street, a conservation area just beyond London Bridge. But Mama, as she is known, has always obliged the stream of international film crews which have beaten a path to her door.

Most recently, she allowed her caff to be converted into a butcher's shop for the film version of George Orwell's novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Richard E Grant, which is released today. Soon, however, it won't be a location fee that she is picking up, but a relocation fee.

Railtrack has issued a compulsory purchase order on Maria's old-fashioned caff, where she lives and works with her daughter Mariarenza. When told they would receive pounds 1,500 in return for leaving, they knew their days of serving bubble and squeak to the stars were numbered. "The supermarket has been slowly destroying the market. Now they want to do this Thameslink, they will destroy us completely," said Maria.

Nineteen other households in this pocket of the past have been issued with the same order by Railtrack, whose pounds 580m Thameslink 2000 project is designed to improve public transport in the South-east. The 1787 Wheatsheaf pub will be demolished, as will Green Dragon Court, with its simple Georgian facades, and the roof of Borough Market, the country's oldest covered fruit and vegetable market dating back to the 11th century. With them will go the living film set.

Christabel Albery, director of the London Film Commission, described Borough, as a "unique" location. "If we lose Borough it will be a major, major problem for us. We have fewer and fewer substantial period locations left in London. I wouldn't be exaggerating to say Borough is used weekly."

Borough has a reputation for being a versatile and accommodating location. "You can get away with shooting lots of different styles of sequences," said Ms Albery. "You can use the shops, the market itself, the streets, Southwark Cathedral, the arches. You can shoot any period from 1820 onwards ... They're also unusual here in that they are pro-film. Lots of communities we go into think film-makers are a nuisance, but you come here and you're welcomed with open arms."

Just last week Christian McWilliams, a freelance location manager, showed around London the American director of Entrapment, a 20th Century Fox film, starring Sean Connery, to be shot next year.

"I took him to the Lloyd's Building and Canary Wharf, but he said Borough was the one place he knew he wanted to come to," said Mr McWilliams. "I bring film-makers here because of the architecture, atmosphere and streets. There's nothing like it in London."

Mike Challanger, a painter who has lived next door to the Borough Cafe for the past 21 years, has started a campaign to save the area. On Wednesday, Railtrack submitted a Transport and Works Act Order for its new viaduct at Borough Market to improve the capacity of the railway between Blackfriars and London Bridge. Residents have 54 days to object to the proposal before it goes to a public inquiry. "If it happens, we could be out of here in a year," said Mr Challanger. "It just ain't on."