These days, travel is cheap. This means two things:
- It’s easy for us to travel places, see what they look like and learn about other people’s cultures
- It’s easy for film crews to travel places and film them
That means that these days, except in a few cases where it’s not worth the effort, if a movie wants to show us Japan or Paris or Iceland, it can.
But this hasn’t always been the case. The Hunt For Red October is a rather good 1990 movie directed by Die Hard’s John McTiernan, with cinematography by future Speed director Jan De Bont. Based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, it was the first of many movies featuring Clancy’s hero Jack Ryan (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit being the others), here played by 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin – yes, young people, there was a time when Alec Baldwin was an action hero. It was also the movie that temporarily relaunched Sean Connery’s acting career.
But as it was 1990, which was a horrifying 25 years ago, the American film industry’s approach to foreign filming – and indeed foreign – was a little different. First off, it was entirely acceptable to have Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Gates McFadden pretending to be Ryan’s English wife Caroline.
Yes, children, there was a time when there were so few British actors working in Hollywood, they actually had to hire Americans to play Brits. Can you imagine that?
But how best to establish that our Jack lives in England, without actually going to England, cos it’s expensive and who cares about the tax breaks and co-funding that don’t yet exist? Well, he’s got to go to the airport, of course, and that means Heathrow. But do enough people know that’s in London? Probably not. So let’s make sure it’s labelled ‘London Heathrow’. And because it’s England, that means it has to be raining. So let’s start with that.
Good so far. But is that British enough? Obviously not. We need to make sure there’s a whole bunch of right-hand drive cars, made obvious with some careful backlighting. And they have to be obviously English cars, too, so let’s throw in a black cab, a Rolls Royce and a Land Rover.
Still not enough? Okay. Let’s add in a double decker bus. Still not enough? Then let’s add in a Union Flag.
But is that British enough? Really? Are we quite sure everyone will realise they’re in London yet? I don’t think so. So let’s add in a map of the London Underground on the side of a bus stop for no well explored reason. Surely that should say London, England.
Not enough? Are you kidding? Surely that’s peak Brit. Okay, fine. I can see what we need here. We need a good old British bobbie in one of those pointy helmets.
Happy? No! Really, that’s not British enough? Right. Fine. Here, have two British bobbies.
And thus we reach peak Brit. That’s how we did it in the 90s, kids. And here you can see it in one smooth, beautiful 90 seconds of Englishness so powerful, it might as well be drinking tea and eating spotting dick while a British Bulldog sits on a Union Flag pillow with the Queen.