It's the reel thing: the film industry belongs to Glasgow

Want to shoot a Viking epic or a Brooklyn drama? Go north of the border. Ian Burrell reports

Idris Elba, as well-informed fans of The Wire know, can present himself as a highly credible American gangster, in spite of his east London roots.

But disguising the streets of Glasgow for a film set in New York's Brooklyn, as was done in Elba's latest movie project, was an altogether different exercise in transformation. Though not as difficult a challenge as you might imagine, thanks to the shared Victorian architecture of the two cities, a common legacy that Glasgow hopes will persuade an increasing number of film producers to see it as an alternative location for plots set in America.

So in Legacy, in which Elba stars as an American serviceman alongside Clarke Peters, his fellow actor in The Wire, Glasgow's City Chambers was dressed as a New York City courtroom. The Brooklyn motel room where Elba's character takes refuge after returning from an undercover operation in Eastern Europe, is in fact a studio within the red-bricked Govan Town Hall, which has become the home of Glasgow's Film City project.

Legacy's writer and director, Thomas Ikimi, believes the buildings of some Glasgow streets are barely distinguishable from those in parts of the Big Apple. Even a native New Yorker such as Peters had to agree, he says. "Much of the New York architecture was actually based on Glasgow. The brickwork is the same as you would see in the older parts of Manhattan, in Fifth Avenue or Madison Avenue," says Ikimi, 30, a Londoner who attended New York's Columbia University. "The biggest difficulty we had was with taxi cabs, the way people are dressed and the street markings. We had to paint over or cover the markings that looked British."

It's not the first time that Glasgow has doubled for New York. The film adaptation of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, made in 2000 and starring Gillian Anderson, saw the City Chambers presented as early Twentieth Century New York rooming houses. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was disguised to appear as Grand Central Station in Manhattan.

The city's adaptability is a key ingredient in its remarkable recent success as it emerges as Britain's second film-making hub, after London. Kevin Macdonald's saga of the Roman army north of the border, The Eagle of the Ninth, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland, was filmed last year in Glasgow, as well as in more rural parts of Scotland. The natural beauty of the country has, of course, long been beneficial to the Scottish film industry, attracting production of blockbusters such as Highlander and Braveheart. But Glasgow has now moved beyond that, offering good quality studio and post-production facilities.

Film City also has four casting agencies under its roof, one devoted to supplying actors of ethnic minority backgrounds. "It's not just the tartan and chocolate box stuff anymore. Glasgow is quite a gritty, urban, cool city now," says Tiernan Kelly, Film City's general manager, highlighting recent international recognition of the city's achievements in music and art. "This all adds to the cachet of Glasgow, that it's a good place to work."

Film City, a £3.5m redevelopment of the old town hall building, includes several film and television production companies, including KEO, the team behind Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage on Channel 4. Also being made in Glasgow is the romantic drama The Last Word, directed by David Mackenzie and starring Ewan McGregor. It is a co-production involving Sigma Films, based in the same building. Meanwhile another Romans in Scotland movie, The Centurion, starring yet another actor from The Wire, Dominic West, was shot largely in the Highlands and is due for release at the end of this year.

The Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn was intending to set his Viking saga Valhalla Rising in both Canada and Scotland. He decided to film entirely in Scotland after Glasgow-based producer Karen Smyth introduced him to the beauty of the ancient forest of Glen Affric, outside of Inverness. "It's almost a prehistoric forest which has the last Douglas Firs and Canadian Pines," she says. "We persuaded him to shoot the whole thing in Scotland and it was a lot more cost-effective."

Refn wanted to shoot in places that had never been seen by film audiences before. So after long drives into the forest, the crew boarded tractors that took them up into mountainous areas of the Highlands. "The vistas were just never ending but we definitely didn't make it easy," says Smyth, who argues that it is the combination of these natural locations and the quality of production staff and facilities that has made Glasgow attractive to film-makers.

The American director Joe Pytka last year came to Dunnottar Castle, outside Aberdeen, to film Clydesdale horses for Budweiser's Superbowl commercial, reckoned to be the most-watched advert of the year on American television.

Smyth, the managing director of Glasgow production company La Belle Allee, is also co-producing Mary's Ride, a new biopic of Mary Queen of Scots which should begin filming this year. Smyth's co-producers, who are Swiss, have been impressed with the depth of production talent in a country that has produced the likes of Rob Roy, Local Hero and Trainspotting. "We have a film culture in this country. We have studio facilities, and we have world class crews – people don't really know that until they come here."

Ikimi understands this, having worked for Glasgow company Black Camel Productions in filming Legacy, which was made with finance from Nigeria. By using the countryside of Dumfries for the Eastern European scenes of a thriller inspired by Hitchcock classics, Ikimi made his budget go further. The movie, in which Elba's character is a former soldier involved in "black ops" covert operations, has been selected to be the closing feature at this year's Glasgow International Film Festival next month.

Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape