The cine-map currently maps the only the UK-based settings of British and Northern Irish fiction films. Roughly one third of all films in the database are currently not featured on the map. The broad categories for exclusion are:
I took the decision at the beginning of this process to exclude documentary to make the data set a little more manageable. It was a decision related to the needs of the project that is the ‘parent’ of the cine-map, and in time we may well reverse the decision and include cinematically-released documentaries.
A film can be British and not feature a single scene set inside the borders of the UK. An example of this kind of film is the Graham Greene adaptation The Quiet American (2002, Philip Noyce) which is set in war-torn Vietnam, or indeed the more famous Greene adaptation The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed) which is set in post WWII Vienna. The BFI uses the blanket term ‘British’ for all UK productions, even those which are Northern Irish, and I will follow that convention for convenience whilst also acknowledging its inaccuracy in terms of the status of Northern Ireland (which is part of the United Kingdom, but not a part of Britain). A full description of the criteria a film production must meet to be considered ‘British’ is available on the BFI website. In simple terms, there are cultural factors and commercial factors. Co-productions with countries that have signed official co-production treaties count as British for commercial reasons, even if nothing on-screen is culturally British. For example, Wajib (2018, Annemarie Jacir) is a British/Palestinian coproduction set entirely in Nazareth, one of the UK’s official coproduction treaty partners. Otherwise, the on-screen and off-screen elements of the film must contain enough Britishness to pass the cultural test. On-screen factors include the primary language spoken in the film being one of the official languages of the UK, the source material the screenplay is adapted from (Shakespeare plays, Ruth Rendell novels, the life story of Elton John), the nationality/residence of on-screen characters. Off-screen factors include the nationality/residence of lead cast and key crew members, such as the director, cinematographer, or composer, and the amount of post-production carried out in UK facilities.
Some films, such as Widows (2018, Steve McQueen) count as British even though everything about the diegesis, setting, dramatis personae, are all American. The underlying source material was a TV series written by British writer Lynda LaPlante, and McQueen and a number of HODs are British or have British residency. Furthermore, the film’s lead production company was FilmFour, a culturally significant UK production house.
At the moment, the scope of the cine-map is restricted to the UK. But as the project grows it is likely we will map British films set outside the UK, which will demonstrate how a national cinema industry can engage globally.
Fantasy & Sci-fi
Some fantasy and sci-fi films can be mapped entirely or partially whilst others can’t, depending on what degree of remove from the real world they are set within. High fantasy narratives exist in entirely fictional worlds such as Tolkein’s Middle Earth, but low fantasy narratives engage to a greater or lesser degree with real-world places. The Harry Potter series (2001-2011) depicts ‘wizard’ places that either exist in alternate magical dimensions, or that exist in real space and are hidden from the perception of non-magical people (‘muggles’) by illusions and enchantments. Young witches and wizards travel to their boarding school, Hogwarts, from a magically hidden platform at King’s Cross station. This idea was so appealing to fans that a replica entrance to the platform was installed in the real station (initially platform 9¾ was discreetly located between platforms 9 and 10 for fans to discover, but following a 2012 remodel of the station it was moved into the new concourse next to a Harry Potter themed gift shop). Whilst London is, of course, mappable, it is impossible to say for sure where Hogwarts is intended to be. A line of dialogue in the books suggests Dufftown in the Scottish highlands is “not very far” from the school grounds, but the films themselves provide no evidence for a real-world referent and one of the inherent limitations of our muggle world cine-map is that it is unable to map places that exist in the wizarding world. We are open to collaboration from magical scholars, regardless of their fictional universe, be they from Hogwarts or the Unseen University.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016, Tim Burton) presents a slightly more resolvable conundrum. Miss Peregrine lives on ‘Cairnholm,’ an inhabited island off the coast of Wales. The island is fictional, but it is set in a real region, and the film’s trailer offers enough evidence to argue a case. An establishing shot of that region, just before the island is revealed, depicts the Green Bridge – a distinctive sea arch – on the Pembrokeshire coast. It therefore seems relatively uncontroversial to argue that the nearest inhabited island to the Green Bridge, Caldey Island, is the implied real world referent for Cairnholm.
Science fiction features similar ‘high’ and ‘low’ distinctions, from space opera such as the Star Wars series to ‘hard’ sci-fi, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick). Whilst much ‘hard’ sci-fi concerns space, it does not have to, and ‘softer’ sci-fi films that deal in speculative fiction and dystopia will frequently posit their what-if situations in real places. 28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle) and Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuarón) draw on the tradition of John Wyndham (whose 1951 novel Day of the Triffids was adapted into a feature film in 1962 directed by Steve Sekely) to portray first London and then Britain at large in the grip of medical-scientific disaster. One of the most eerily authentic treatments of real world place in a sci-fi film in recent years is Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer), in which an alien modified to look human (Scarlett Johansson) trawls the streets of Glasgow looking for single men with few family attachments who she captures and submits for processing as food for the rest of her species.
We have mapped the Fantasy and Sci-Fi films that we can. Any listed on this page are set beyond any mappable part of the UK.
Films in the “indeterminate” section comprise some of the least interesting and most interesting edge cases – at least from a mapping point of view. Truth or Dare (2011, Robert Heath) is a formulaic ‘cabin in the woods’ thriller that cares little for where specifically the cabin or the woods are, as long as they exist and people can be murdered in them. Prison films, such as Ghosted (2011, Craig Viveiros) and Screwed (2011, Reg Traviss) function entirely inside their respective prisons and have little need for an external geography, which is allowed to remain hazy. Similarly, Powder Room (2013, M. J. Delaney) is set entirely in the women’s toilets in a nightclub. There are a small number of these indeterminate films which use non-places in order to explorean alienated or isolated consciousness. Convenience (2015, Keri Collins) is a broad comedy, set in a generic 24-hour petrol station convenience store, which emphasises the absurdist aspects of the stereotypical service-economy non-place. Blood Cells (2015, Luke Seomore & Joseph Bull) is a road movie that follows a homeless drifter as he makes his way through a succession of marginal places en route to his brother’s house ready for the arrival of his new nephew. Light Years (2016, Esther May Campbell) follows a similar, but shorter, journey as a young girl goes walkabout to search for her mentally ill mother in the marginal spaces of the West of England. These films are seriously engaged and ‘realist’ about spaces without naming them, and the idea of a real nowhere land are part of their narrative scheme.
Some of the films in this section are here because there was not enough information to infer where they are set, and are pending review.
The full list will appear here as soon as we have integrated a tool that allows us to pull the information from our database and display it in a navigable form.