Birmingham’s recent history as a location for filmmaking is rich and varied. From cult 90s films about brass bands, through to huge Hollywood blockbusters, the Second City has played host to it all.
Screen and Film School Birmingham sits right at the very heart of this: our Digbeth home has become famous the world over as the setting for Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders and filming has taken place in Birmingham, as well as other parts of the North of England, throughout the entirety of the show’s nine-year lifespan.
Looking further back in time, the 60s, 70s and 80s saw a number of underground hit films set up productions in the city including Take Me High starring Cliff Richard in 1973 and family favourite TV series All Creatures Great and Small from 1978 to 1990.
Here’s a roundup of some of our favourite picks from an illustrious list of Brum-based film productions, including some insider information about what has been happening on the ground in the city recently. Birmingham, as you will discover, is a hotbed for filmmakers.
Grand Central Shopping Centre
The most recent headline-grabbing scenes that were filmed in Birmingham were as blockbuster as can be: Tom Cruise was seen and pictured several times over the course of summer 2021, as Mission: Impossible 7 continued its development across the UK. As well as backdrops such as Grand Central shopping centre, Mr Cruise also exploited the famous local cuisine, eating at Asha’s Indian restaurant in his downtime. The latest instalment of the Mission films is due out in 2023- we even had one of our brilliant Birmingham students working on it!
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Birmingham doubled as London for several important scenes in Hustle, the hugely popular BBC drama which was aired between 2004-2012. This is a common trick of the trade; the Producer explained the reasoning behind this conceit: “TV budgets are getting tighter and moving to Birmingham was a more cost-effective option. Plus it’s very easy to get around, we don’t have to deal with London gridlock and can film in three or four locations a day.”
Birmingham Town Hall
Before the turn of the century and in the true spirit of film in the 1990s, Brassed Off detailed the lives of a community which surrounded a coal mine in a northern English village. In much the same way that the Full Monty did so about steelworkers in Sheffield, this comedic film starring powerhouses Pete Postlethwaite and Ewan McGregor, captured the essence of the time and the filming style of the decade. The scenes which depicted the Royal Albert Hall were actually shot in Birmingham Town Hall.
The Black Country Living Museum
Set in and around early 20th century Birmingham and the Black Country, fans’ favourite Peaky Blinders has set up locations throughout the North of England and over the course of its five seasons so far. Digbeth has acted as the perfect backdrop to the often sinister, violent and criminal underworld that the characters inhabit. Filming techniques, such as the now iconic set design and industrial feel, leave the viewer in no doubt that the darkness which hangs over the entire ensemble seems to be in keeping with the cobbled streets and coal dust which they grew up around.
It doesn’t get any bigger than Steven Spielberg and the Hollywood mega director used the streets of our very own Digbeth, as well as the Jewellery Quarter and Spaghetti Junction, for his smash sci-fi film Ready Player One. A film which couples modern ideas of gaming with a retro 80s feel which Spielberg specialises in, the title is a reference to the coin-operated arcade games which were so popular during that era. Thrillingly for everyone at Screen and Film School Birmingham, one of the characters, Wade, finds himself fleeing from an action scene on Floodgate Street, which is our home address.
Back to the 90s again now and primetime detective drama Dalziel and Pascoe also utilised the Midlands city as a double, this time acting as a representation of Yorkshire, where the two zany-named lead characters applied their trade. Although chiefly set outside of Brum, BBC Birmingham did produce the BBC hit. A variety of locations including Solihull Hospital, Fox Hollies pub in Acocks Green, Birmingham University, Rowheath Pavilion in Bournville and – perhaps most famously – the City Hospital mortuary were used when filming.
In terms of filming locations in and around Birmingham, that seems like a good place to finish. It proves that the city is still at the forefront of our industry when it comes to production. It also goes to show that Birmingham is still evolving and growing as a player on the global film scene, from Brassed Off back in the 1990s to Ethan Hunt in the present day, it continues to be an action-packed ride. Now, more than ever, we feel at the centre of everything that is exciting about film in the UK.