When most people remember Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, which was released 25 years ago, they remember its daring plot twists, Forest Whitaker’s questionable British accent and the ambitious way in which it weaves sexuality, race and sectarianism into its love story about an IRA terrorist and a hairdresser from the East End. Watching it now, though, there’s something else that strikes you. It’s a fascinating time capsule of London – east and west – in the early 1990s, with its favouring of real locations over studio sets.
The majority of the film was shot in the capital, with just the opening scenes – the fair in Bettystown and the imprisonment of Whitaker’s British soldier in a country house – shot in Ireland. As with Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993), another great time capsule of London in the early 90s, you can see how different the city looked two decades ago, before every street was lined with Starbucks, Prets and gluten-free restaurants. In the quarter of a century since then, the city has transformed drastically due, primarily, to gentrification. Still, a few faint traces of that London captured on celluloid remain.
When Fergus (Stephen Rea) looks up Dil (Jaye Davidson) in London, he follows her and a shady guy back to her apartment in Hoxton Square and watches them argue in her doorway while hiding in the shadows. The first thing you notice is how quiet the streets are, how empty the square is. Twenty-five years later it couldn’t be more different. There’s no longer the shabby brickwork and rusty railings outside Dil’s flat. Now, at night, the square teems with life: people eating, drinking and dancing in the bars. Beneath Dil’s flat now, in the basement of 9 Hoxton Square, is a cocktail bar, and next to it a restaurant called 8 Hoxton Square. On the corner is Hoxton Bar & Grill, a slick venue where a scene from The Counselor (2013) was filmed. Later in Jordan’s film Dil is seen drinking in the square next to a petal-shaped flower bed that’s no longer there. Today, in the summer, the square is rammed with hipsters clutching Red Stripes, their fixed-gear bikes locked to the railings.
The Metro bar
The fictional Metro bar – located at 28-30 Coronet Street, a spit from Hoxton Square – is where Fergus ogles Dil in her glitzy gold dress as she sings ‘The Crying Game’. The bar’s bright art-nouveau sign above the door was made up for the film, but when Dil steps inside we’re actually no longer on Coronet Street; we’re at London Apprentice Bar in Old Street, a few minutes down the road. That’s where the interiors were filmed, where you see Jim Broadbent’s bartender pour Fergus a pint. Visiting The Metro today, you’ll face a nondescript office building housing a photographic studio. Unless you’re a film buff armed with a camera, it’s not that exciting.
Fergus’s London home
Spitalfields, another east London location, is where Fergus stays – conveniently a couple of streets from Dil’s hairdressing salon. Back then, Crispin Street was a shabby part of London where accommodation was relatively cheap. That was before gentrification swept through and the famous Spitalfields Market (far right) was encased in an enormous glass structure. Fergus stays in the Crispin Street Women’s Refuge, built in 1868 and closed in the 1970s. It’s now known as Lilian Knowles House and is home to roughly 365 LSE graduate students. The surrounding area is a huge construction site, with a handful of Victorian-era buildings sandwiched between shiny offices. What was once a smoggy slum district is now a place for tourists on Jack the Ripper walking tours to grab a Frappuccino from the market.
South Kensington station
It’s not all east London though. When Jude (Miranda Richardson) arrives in town and forces Fergus to help with the IRA-backed assassination of an English judge, the action moves to west London, specifically South Kensington, home of all the foreign embassies and establishment figures. In one scene, Jude is lurking outside the underground station, not at all conspicuous with her bob and leather gloves. While the postbox and the tile work remain the same, it’s had a clear sprucing up with a new pedestrianised area, softened further by a flower market where you can fork out a tenner for a single rose. It’s unlikely Jordan would use this location today and harder still to believe that west London ever had its edgy moments.
The west London street where the assassination was to take place
Compared to the east London locations, this west London spot hasn’t changed at all. On a residential street in Belgravia, the place where the assassination was to take place, Fergus is forced into the back of a car with Jude and told what’s expected of him. Today you can see the similarity: the railings, the stop sign, the postbox, even the painted “look left” on the road. The main difference? The cars. Another 25 years further down the line and I doubt much will change here. Except the cars.
The west London bar where Fergus and Jude meet
If you turn 180 degrees from the last street, you will face the Lowndes Arms pub. Or at least the spot where it used to stand. In the film, it’s where Fergus is given the details regarding the assassination. Today, alas, it is no more, which is no huge surprise when you realise that it was the only non-residential site in the area and must have ruffled the feathers of noise-averse neighbours. The pub closed down in 1998, with Alec Guinness apparently leading the campaign to save it. What is it today? Surprise, surprise: luxury apartments!