A Snapshot Of Reel Life

15th March 2008

You’d expect there to be a film museum in the capital… but it’s a gap that’s been waiting to be filled. Step forward The Movieum – the newest museum in London, dedicated to the British film industry, now taking its place on the red carpet.

Hannah Patterson takes a look.

Stepping into the Movieum is like entering a sort of giant Planet Hollywood – without the burgers. There are costumes from Gladiator and Superman, posters from Indiana Jones and a reproduction of the grisly egg from Alien. It’s hard to believe that this exhibition of movie memorabilia and history is dedicated solely to the British film industry.

The new attraction at County Hall shows the incredible input our own experts have had into the making of box office hits such as Star Wars, Batman and the Harry Potter series, as well as hundreds of other films more associated with Britain over the years.

In the main atrium there is an impressive display of props, including the motorbike ridden by Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd, the oversized pillar box from The Borrowers, the original gold costume from Sunshine and other larger-than-life memorabilia. Around the perimeter of the circular room are stands that demonstrate each stage of the movie-making process, from script-writing, to the art department, animatronics, editing, sound effects, make-up and wardrobe, all illustrated with 3-D displays. Further on, individual rooms are allocated to specific genres. In ‘Heroes And Villains’, for example, you will see the original 1978 Superman costume as worn by Christopher Reeve and Michael Keaton’s Batsuit.

Everything is accompanied by footage of interviews with industry insiders, film clips and behind-the-scenes snippets. There’s also a big lounge where you can chill out on a squidgy sofa, watching a giant screen of some of the films that started off on television and made it into feature films, such as Up Pompeii.

For £5, you can have your photos taken within reproduced film sets, on a desert island, with storm troopers or on Queen Elizabeth’s throne, and also have fun in a computer room where you can learn about computer-aided effects that can be achieved on film.

The Movieum is the brainchild of Jonathan Sands, 35, a hugely enthusiastic impresario and former stills photographer at Elstree Studios. Sands runs film and production design company Weird And Wonderful and over the years has amassed an enormous collection of movie props and memorabilia, some of which is now on display at the Movieum, which his company has privately funded.

“The Movieum has come about after many years of working in the film industry,” says Sands,, who still lives in Elstree. “I’ve got together with friends and distributors who are aware that there’s something needed in London to celebrate the British film industry, which can act as a showcase and a shopfront for the film business in the UK.”

He has been helped by Stephen Lane, buyer for the Prop Store Of London, based in Chenies, near Chorleywood, who has provided much of the memorabilia on display, including the Superman costume and the Batsuit.

“The great thing about the British film industry,” Sands observes, “is that a lot of people don’t know it is so broad.”

The Movieum focuses on British links and the British territory that the film has been made on, he explains, “so, for instance, where you have Star Wars and Harry Potter and Indiana Jones, a lot of people wouldn’t even dream that they would have been made in the UK, but by and large they have been, with UK talent.”

One of his personal favourite exhibits is the original Rank gong, on loan from Pinewood Studios. On screen, everything was shot above the strongman’s knees as he bashed the gong. What people don’t know is that he was wearing a pair of slippers at the time. A picture of the full shot, slippers included, is on display too.

The Movieum has had quite a low-key launch. It opened at the end of February with little publicity but word is spreading rapidly and, as Sands has a 25-year lease on the 40,000 square feet of floorspace, there is plenty of room for more exhibits. You do get the feeling that some of the area is still a little bare – and Sands acknowledges this.

“We’ve got lots to do, it’s a work in progress. We are always on the lookout for old artefacts. My current collection is between 3,000 and 4,000 pieces and I’m having enough trouble keeping those in storage and on display. But as new films come out we are always looking.”

Sands declares his favourite period of cinema history to be the Seventies. “I’m a massive Star Wars fan – and the Seventies brought us Star Wars. I’ve been working with Lucasfilm for 10 years, helping with promotion in the UK.”

“I helped them store and archive certain items from The Phantom Menace, another film that was made in England at Leavesden Studios in Watford, the same studios that are home to Harry Potter.”

There’s good breadth of coverage in this new museum. Entering the Sound Stage, you get a taste of just what can be created in a studio. Exhibits here include a Star Wars installation with R2-D2 and C-3PO and an oversized set from The Borrowers.

Just off the Sound Stage is the Hall of Fame, which details the history of the studios which have been instrumental in shaping the British film industry, including Denham, Shepperton, Elstree and Pinewood, along with interviews with industry insiders like Alan Parker.

The blue Mini on The Italian Job display is not the original, but looks authentic enough. “What we are illustrating here is that three-quarters of The Italian Job was actually made here in the UK,” says Sands. Visitors also learn that Michael Caine was never supposed to utter the words, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” in the film. His actual line was “I only want you to blow the doors off,” but he created his own line and history was made. Not a lot of people know that.

Sands remains a film enthusiast through and through. “My parents moved to Elstree when I was 13 years old,” he explains. “It was a film town. Now it isn’t. We mustn’t let these things be forgotten.”

So, what is the future of the British film industry? Sands’ enthusiasm never falters. “With the talent that we’ve got and the fantastic studios, which offer the greatest facilities in the world, I’m confident we will move further forward.”

The Movieum, First Floor, County Hall, Westminster, is open from 10am to 5pm daily. Entry is £8 adults, £5 children, £22 family.

More info from www.themovieum.com or 020 7202 7040.

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