All eyes were on Camden’s Gloucester Crescent last year at the release of Lady in the Van, home of the true story by Alan Bennett. Now, Islington’s Thornhill Crescent doubles as Alan Bennett’s Gloucester Crescent in Love, Nina. Starring Dame Helena Bonham Carter, the series is also based on true stories.
The five-part BBC One series starts tonight. Here’s the trailer.
It’s based on the letters home of Nina Stibbe, who arrived from Leicester in 1982 aged 20, to nanny the children of Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, and her ex-husband the film director Stephen Frears. The boys were Sam, 10, and Will, nine. The real Sam Frears stars in this TV series as neighbour, “Ray”.
Alan Bennett lived over the road and regularly popped in for supper (sometimes clutching a tin of lager). Jonathan Miller, Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn all lived on the same street. The novelist Deborah Moggach lived across the road and film director Karel Reisz (The French Lieutenant’s Woman) lived not far away.
Various houses in Thornhill Crescent hosted filming for five days, their ground floor rooms and hallways playing rooms in Gloucester Crescent.
“It was just a matter of squeezing past for a few days,” one of the residents, Mr Robert Milne explains, “And not walking in at certain times, during a take.
“To make the set look the part they sent our 1970s furniture off in a van – swapping in other 1970s furniture. Although some of our books did audition successfully for a part in Alan Bennett’s library – they were chosen according to colour.”
(Alan Bennett is re-named Malcolm in the series).
Mr Milne adds, “the experience was interesting and enjoyable. Although I did see someone looking confused in the street at one point, as the production re-numbered all our houses. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all looks in the TV series.”
Mr Aron Cronin, a neighbour, is treasurer of the local residents’ group, the Thornhill Square Association, which received a generous donation from the filmmaker by way of thanks.
Mr Cronin says, “The donation was very welcome. We have yet to make a final decision as a community, but we could certainly put funds towards repairing the Victorian railings around the square and improving the gardens.
“The crew gave residents some copies of the book and reading it there was a lot that resonated. We know the era and we know the people it’s about. Although it’s set in Gloucester Crescent, it’s all very familiar to us. So I am looking forward to seeing the TV show.”
Mr Cronin adds that residents would welcome filming back: “So long as the crew was respectful and considerate, we would be happy to see more filming. And we would certainly welcome the income which would be put to community projects.”
The Thornhill Square area has an intact 1850 garden square, with crescents at both ends, a church, a library and a wood. Films shot in the square include: My Best Friend’s Wedding (2015); Me Before You (2015);Criminal Justice (2009); The Clocks (2009); Tripping Over (2006); Love and Other Disasters (2005); V for Vendetta (2005); A Very Social Secretary (2005); The National Lottery (television advertisement) (2005);Four Weddings and a Funeral (1993) and The professionals (1979).
Aside from Thornhill Crescent, Islington locations included the Alpino Café on Chapel Market, Barnsbury Stores on Hemingford Road and Cally Pool.
But the filmmakers also popped back into Camden next door, the real Gloucester Crescent’s home borough. On the Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate, Nina arrives to return an old lady her cat. St Paul’s Church Hall in Camden Square hosts a yoga class and Nina buys her meat at James Gubb Butchers on Leather Lane. Conway Hall interiors also feature. And Nina is seen walking along Regent’s Canal.