Films That Can Take Us Places

Here is a feature on films that can take us places, originally published on the Spectator Life website.

As Britain has been asked to avoid foreign travel “indefinitely”, here are the best films that can take you places from the comfort of your living room. 

In ‘To Catch a Thief’, a series of jewel thefts occur on the French Riviera and suspicion falls on John Robie (Cary Grant), a retired cat burglar. Desperate to clear his name and catch the culprit, he tears about Cannes and the surrounding areas with Grace Kelly. We see Saint Jeannet, the beautiful historic village near Vence, as well as La Bar sur Loup and Tourettes sur Loup, and Monte Carlo. Grace Kelly stays in the Hotel Carlton which boasts its own private beach. The chateau they visit is called La Croix-des-Gardes, a private property a little west of Cannes. 

For a similarly sunny milieu, turn to ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’. Michael Caine is Lawrence Jamieson, a successful conman who lives in the fictional town of Beaumont sur Mer, which, in real life, is Beaulieu sur Mer. He is worried when Freddy Benson (played by Steve Martin) threatens to expose him to the neighbourhood, so takes him under his wing. Freddy stops for a spot of shopping in Villefranche and we watch the pair of tricksters flit about in Cap Ferrat. They visit the Grand-Hotel in between enjoying the amenities at Jamieson’s mansion, which in reality can be found superbly positioned in Antibes on ‘Millionaire’s Bay.’ 

The film ‘A Good Year’ shows Provence in all its glory. Russell Crowe plays a city banker who learns that he has inherited from his uncle the chateau and vineyard where he spent his childhood summer holidays. We enjoy a tour of Luberon and its villages and see the sunlit squares of Cucuron, slightly north of Provence. An ideal choice for those needing a feel-good film set in a beautiful location. 

Is there a better way to see Rome than through a guided tour by Gregory Peck on the back of a Vespa? In ‘Roman Holiday’ Peck’s character Joe Bradley, a journalist, takes Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) through Rome. They pass the Colosseum and pause on the Spanish Steps. Film fans will be aware of the story surrounding the famous scene that takes place at the Mouth of Truth. Gregory Peck deviated from the script and pretended to have his hand bitten off by it, but didn’t tell Audrey Hepburn of his plan, so her horrified scream on seeing that his arm has vanished is genuine. The press conference at the end of the film was shot in the Sala Grande Galleria, the central room in the Colonna palace in Rome. 

For an excursion to Verona, the film ‘Letters to Juliet’ is worth a watch. From the historic square, the Piazza Della Erbe to the Ponte Pietra bridge and Gardello Tower, you will feel as though you have been on holiday as you see the sites through the eyes of Amanda Seyfried’s character Sophie, a writer pursuing a love story. Juliet’s House is central to the plot of the film and takes the characters (Vanessa Redgrave and Christopher Egan) through the winding roads of Tuscany. Picture perfect cinematography. 

In order to see Florence, ‘A Room with a View’ is essential. Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench go to all the popular hotspots, including the Piazza Santissimma. In Piazza della Signoria, there is a gruesome fight scene and the main character, played by Bonham Carter, faints and gets carried off and away by George Emerson (Julian Sands), her love interest in the film. 

‘Mamma Mia’ was set on the fictitious Greek Island Kalokairi. Fortunately, it can be found in real life too: it is Skopelos, one of the Sporades Islands. Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth sing and dance around the island, from the hilltops of Glysteri at the beginning to St Nikolaos Tower for the closing wedding scene. While you won’t get the same tan as the stars, you might feel happier and uplifted for watching the film. 

To enjoy New York across the decades, start with ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (for Fifth Avenue, Central Park and the New York Public Library in the early 1960s), then ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ will show you Broadway, Madison Avenue, and the quieter Greenwich Village in the mid-1980s. ‘One Fine Day’ will take you through a hectic day in the city as two single parents (Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney) try to negotiate a work-life balance with two young children in tow. Bethesda Terrace and Fountain in Central Park make a memorable appearance through the pouring rain. Julianne Moore recently described the film (released in 1996) on her Instagram page as the ‘Most soothing movie with the most gorgeous people’ so it ticks both boxes for satisfying our need to travel and our craving for cosy plotlines at this difficult time. 

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