The majestic surroundings of Manchester Town Hall played host to the final See Film Differently event of 2011, an exclusive preview screening of Phyllida Lloyd’s highly anticipated The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep. The series of events (sponsored by Volkswagen) has seen both cult classics and new releases screened at the films’ original locations, offering a new take on secret cinema style events of this kind.
As well as a comfy set-up, plenty of popcorn and a complimentary selection of fine British food, guests also got the chance to amble through an exhibition of stills from the film after the screening, and two of the costumes worn by Streep (both in Tory blue) were also on display. Since the film selection didn’t exactly lend itself to any surprising gimmicks, the night was a fairly subdued affair, but one which was nevertheless excellently organised and thoughtfully put together.
In focusing on location, the See Film Differently events not only highlight the practicalities involved when bringing a director’s vision to the screen, but also provide a good excuse to arrange events in regions throughout the country, and not merely in the capital.
Despite this, it’s hard to help but feel the screening of The Iron Lady in the post-industrial north seemed a little incongruous given the not so distant history the film attempts to portray, and the fact that the effects of Thatcher’s neo-liberal policies are still sorely felt by many living in north-west towns. A few audience members could be overheard reminiscing about being part of the widespread union strikes in the 1980s, and overall the film (perhaps unsurprisingly) received a lukewarm reception at best from the crowd that night.
The north was celebrated as a major player in the UK’s cultural scene during the event’s opening speeches. Although the region is indeed becoming a major hub for film and TV output (solidified by the recent BBC move to Salford’s Media City), you’d be forgive for feeling a little hesitant about the notion that global interest in Manchester is growing, when in fact it’s merely used by Hollywood to be passed off as other places. One of the captions in the photo still exhibition seemed to sum this tension up perfectly – Meryl Streep used underground passages to get from her hotel to the town hall set so her ‘movements’ remained secret – so she was hardly mingling with the locals and sampling all that’s great up north. Meanwhile, independent filmmakers are all too aware it’s still just as hard to find funding for genuinely British film projects.
It is of course a positive thing that these locations are being recognised by the See Film Differently event, but all it really amounts to is some interesting trivia for the realms of the pub quiz, not a cause to believe a notoriously under-funded industry is somehow rejuvenating under-funded areas.
For more info on See Film Differently, visit seefilmdifferently.com.