Wednesday, 29 October 2014


It is not unknown for mayhem to erupt on the streets of Glasgow, as anyone who has been there on a Saturday night will testify. But the chaotic scenes that were witnessed in the area around George Square in August 2011, rather than the product of a booze-sodden populace enjoying a night out, came about during the filming of the zombie horror epic World War Z, based on the book by Max Brooks and starring Brad Pitt. In the film the world succumbs to an outbreak of plague which turns people into zombies. Brad Pitt plays a former UN investigator, Gerry Lane, whose role is to save the world from this terrifying scourge. Some of the film's most dramatic scenes were filmed in Glasgow, which was transformed into Philadelphia with the help of American road signs and flags, yellow taxis and kerbside newspaper dispensers. One can't help wondering why the film-makers didn't just go ahead and film the scenes in Philadelphia in the first place. Still, the city makes a good stand-in with its solid big city architecture and its wide streets.

Early on in the film Lane finds himself stuck in traffic with his family in Cochrane Street as the zombie hordes approach (of course it goes without saying that the family manages to escape unscathed). As the people start to panic, setting off a stampede in front of the City Chambers in George Square, an errant rubbish truck ploughs into the traffic and overturns. Soldiers and policemen (in suitably American uniforms) flood into the scene in an attempt to head off the danger. George Square is the civic heart of Scotland's second city, laid out in 1781 and named after King George III. The headquarters of Glasgow City Council occupies the elaborate Glasgow City Chambers building on one side of the square, and there are a number of monuments, including one to Robbie Burns and the only known equestrian statue of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Probably the most dramatic episode in the square's real-life history came in 1919 with the Black Friday rally by campaigners for better working conditions, which ended in scenes of violence which were met with tanks and troops.

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Glasgow City Chambers. Photo by Andy Farrington, via Wikimedia Commons

The makers of the film made the most of their time in Britain by including a number of other locations around the country. Still in Scotland, Lane is seen driving a camper van past a plastics factory on Wholeflats Road, Grangemouth, near Falkirk. Meanwhile, down south, the Heygate Estate in Southwark features in a scene in which the Lane family hide and await rescue by helicopter. The picture-perfect Lulworth Cove in Dorset puts in an appearance when Lane crosses the bay in a speedboat to meet his family - the cove plays the part of a 'safe zone' in Nova Scotia. A business park in Sandwich, Kent, called Discovery Park is the location of a WHO laboratory (and our brand new Doctor Who Peter Capaldi plays a WHO doctor in the film!). The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Argus, which was in the news recently for its role in the fight against ebola, was renamed the USS Madison and Brad Pitt turned up in its home port Falmouth for some of the filming. Some of the sets for the film were built on the disused Bovingdon Airfield in Hertfordshire.

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A safe haven: Lulworth Cove. Photo by Julian Dowse, via Wikimedia Commons

The film attracted mixed reviews, some of them less than complementary. But hey, it's Halloween, and Halloween wouldn't be the same without settling down to some enjoyable tosh on the big screen would it?

Map of the George Square area.

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