Seen on Screen: Somerset House
Goodbye Somerset House, hello Vernon Square! As our former home becomes a distant memory I thought I’d reflect on how this Neoclassical building has been used by media. It was always a delight for me to glimpse our university, even for a second, on screen and proudly say ‘That’s my uni!’ Every Courtauld student knows that the variety of events in Somerset House never fails to surprise and amuse - 2018’s highlights include Michael Pinsky’s geodesic pods displaying pollutions of different countries (because we needed to experience more pollution) and a reflective halo which we all hoped would one day arrive. Here are some examples of how Somerset House has been seen on screen.
For anyone who is counting off the days until they can watch Love, Actually again (I prefer The Holiday personally), a brief glimpse of the Square with the ice-skating rink is shown in Hugh Grant’s opening monologue, to show London in preparation for Christmas.
In another romance film shot here, the 2004 Bride and Prejudice, the fountains were displayed at night in a dance sequence, ‘Take Me To Love’.
Romance was also the theme in the 2012 Bollywood film Jab Tak Hai Jaan, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif, with another scene of lovers dancing among the fountains.
Last Chance Harvey is a romance released in 2009 that included Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson walking in the square, contemplating life. There is even a track in the score of the film called Somerset House. Listen to it here whilst you mourn your next essay grade!
The location was used in two James Bond films - Golden Eye in 1995 and Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997. In Golden Eye, the location is interestingly depicted as a square St. Petersburg, where Jack Wade’s car breaks down. In Tomorrow Never Dies, the use of Russian cars transformed the place into a roundabout. It is quite unusual for a film to use the same filming location, as recognisable as Somerset House, to depict two different places.
Somerset House in Golden Eye (Source: https://jamesbondlocations.blogspot.com/2011/11/st-petersburg-square-somerset-house.html)
Full of Mystery? Sherlock Holmes:
Although Baker Street is the location most commonly associated with the famous detective, Somerset House was used in the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes to depict the entrance to the ‘Diogenes Club’ where Mycroft Holmes resigns. In the 2009 film starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, the building is depicted as a prison.
The Olympus Has Fallen sequel London Has Fallen is set in London, and is about London, but has a mainly American cast. Watch the trailer here , and see the American president rushed into a helicopter in the Square. It was so dramatic that it was even captured by the Daily Mail (or maybe it was just a slow news day).
Off with a bang:
Being near to the annual London fireworks, Somerset House was used as the main location for the BBC’s New Year Live programme in 2006.
The building is also featured in the 1991 comedy King Ralph, starring John Goodman as the American Ralph, who is seen as next in line to be King after an accident kills most of the Royal Family. The location is depicted as Buckingham Palace’s internal courtyard.
The walkway from the New Wing to the King’s College Entrance has been used to depict a road for horse and carriage, as well as a military parade ground in the 2003 ‘historical action comedy’ Shanghai Nights, with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson.
Most recently, current Courtauld students spotted filming of the latest release: Mary Poppins Returns, where the gaslights came in handy.
Shanghai Nights, ‘Final Goodbyes’ (Source: http://www.british-film-locations.com/compare/1jp/)
James Corden, when taking his version of The Late Late Show from LA to London, has used Somerset House twice when filming the iconic ‘crosswalk musicals’. In the square, he gathers actors to tell them what musical they are performing; in the two cases ‘Mary Poppins’ with Sir Ben Kingsley and a medley celebrating the life of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Also on the site, stunt vlogger Night Scape did what nobody ever thought of doing and jumped over the steep gaps on the side near Waterloo Bridge. The Security team are as vigilant as ever. There is a twenty-minute vlog, but Fox News managed to hear about it and condense the video to roughly one minute. Watch it here.
In 2008, the location was used as a backdrop for The Duchess with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, depicting the Duke’s London home, Devonshire House.
To conclude, Somerset House has been used within popular culture predominantly as a historical setting, a symbol of London, and in contrast, fountain-side space for romance. Somerset House, and I guess The Courtauld, really have seen it all. Here’s to new adventures in Vernon Square!