After intending to plan a trip to the lovely cities of Belfast and, for the first time ever, Dublin, the increased cost (£120 for a hostel for one night in a room of 18!) unfortunately put a halt on going down that road. So a quick look online and me and my fellow movie buff Matthew headed to the capital of Spain, Madrid.
The home of Spain’s Royal Family and slap bang in the middle of the country (no cooling sea breezes here) I check the temperature to make sure it was still sunny (duh, it’s June) and it came in at 24 degrees. Not bad I thought. A quick re-check and that was 24 degrees at night! At 11pm!!
Well, I didn’t bother packing any coat or long sleeved shirts that’s for sure, and booked 5 nights in an apartment/hotel in the centre of town. A direct flight from the East Midlands landed on a Thursday and after a quick bus ride, we were in the centre of this amazing European city.
After checking in (the pay-per-day wi-fi turned out to be free), our hosts were surprised to find we had walked from the Puerta de Alcalá to the Prosperidad district. A mere 40 minutes walk but with the afternoon sun and our backpacks it was a bit of a stroll and he looked surprised we had undertaken it. However, to be fair, it was one walk we wouldn’t do again.
Although a beautiful city, Madrid has not got the reputation (certainly for film) of Spain’s ‘other’ great city of Barcelona. However, that’s not say it doesn’t have a rich history of the arts in many forms.
On our first full day after settling in we went back to Puerta de Alcalá, a grand archway in the middle of a roundabout which drew comparisons to Marble Arch and the Arc de Triomphe but even larger in scale. It was around the year 1774, King Charles III commissioned Sabatini to construct this monumental gate in the city which was then inaugurated in 1778.
In a nearby town there is an archway influenced by this one called Puerta de Madrid. If you place yourself in the area then you may recognise its appearance in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) where the hero commands his troops.
After this neo-classical monument we were directly at the main entrance to the Parque del Buen Retiro. This film is featured prominently in Goya’s Ghosts (2006) by legendary director Miloš Forman and it is in this park where Alicia (Natalie Portman) prostitutes herself.
Walking from here along the main boulevard Calle de Alcalá we noticed a high police presence in the city during our stay which we chalked up to the Royals being in town but every corner we turned was another police car/bike/vehicle with armed security nearby.
Carrying on our journey we ended up at the Plaza de Canalejas. More specifically we saw the Café del Príncipe. It is here where in which Guardian journalist Simon Ross (Midlands alumni and Shane Meadows “muse” Paddy Considine) meets up with his contact Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton) to research Jason Bourne and first hears about the covert Blackbriar operation. Be aware though, this sequence is supposedly ‘Turin’ in the film using the power of movie magic! So, although there is an establishing shot of the Piazza Vittorio Veneto from Turin), it’s definitely this café!
After a jaunt through some backstreets where great independent shops sat amongst quirky restaurants we ended up at the glorious Plaza Mayor. Stopping for a drink in a friendly bar, this huge open square is surrounded by three-story residential buildings having 237 balconies facing the Plaza. Having a dark and chequered history the plaza has held host to events like markets, bullfights, football games, public executions, and, during the Spanish Inquisition, "autos de fe" against supposed heretics. Scary stuff. However, now it was a perfect place to stop and rest and enjoy the simple pleasure of people watching.
Film fans may recognise the square as the major site for the 2008 film Vantage Point. Directed by Pete Travis, the film follows an assassination attempt seen from multiple peoples’ points of views.
Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, and Sigourney Weaver star in principal roles in the movie which has the Rashomon effect as the story unfolds through multiple perspectives.
Just over from that area is Madrid de los Austrias (The Madrid of the Austrians or the Habsburgs) which is the old centre of Madrid, built during the reign of the Habsburg Dynasty. The area is located south of the Calle Mayor, in between the Metro stations Sol and Opera and portions of Pedro Almodóvar’s “Volver” (meaning "to go back") were filmed nearby.
The 2006 Spanish drama stars Penélope Cruz as a woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her daughter and Almodóvar has used the city as a main location in many of his films since moving there in 1967 to become a filmmaker. When dictator Francisco Franco closed the National School of Cinema in Madrid, Almodóvar became self-taught whilst working in the famous Madrid flea market El Rastro to support himself.
More recently, Daniel Craig’s second outing as James Bong in Quantum of Solace (2008) saw parts of the film covering the Royal Opera & Royal Palace area. We walked to the palace which is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but is now only used for state ceremonies. But with 3,418 rooms (!!) it is the largest palace in Europe by floor area and not short of space!
After resting our aching feet on day one we got up early for day two and headed for the Casa de Campo in the north west of the city. We travelled across the park by cable car and once we reached the other side, alighted to have a wander back through it. The sun scorched yellow grass punctuated by small areas of bush and scrub made it the perfect place for Sergio Leone to film A Fistful of Dollars. The walls of Rojos' house where Joe was tortured and imprisoned are now linked to a restaurant / function suite called La Pesquera.
Once we grabbed some re-energising ice cream, the evening was spent in the downtown area of Madrid trying out some local bars. Two of our favourites were Amor de Madre (link) which used a cool skater-décor for its patrons with a T2 style bike in the corner whilst the Twist and Shout Bar (link) had a great interior with movie memorabilia, a painting of Dr. Who’s Tardis as well as an X-Wing in the corner and a full size model E. T. (!)
The “Darth Vader” and “Game of Thrones” shots were also great although our heads disagreed with us the following morning.
Mentioned previously, Goya’s Ghosts from 2006 used Madrid’s beautiful locations extensively in its shoot. Although written, produced, and performed in English, it is in fact a Spanish production. Although the historical setting of the film is authentic, the actual narrative story about Goya defending a model is fictional as are a number of characters.
From the Viñuelas castle where the Spanish Queen poses for a portrait to the Nature Reserve Cuenca Alta de Manzanares which shows Wellington’s soldiers, the historic nature of Madrid and its surrounding area is used to full effect. Other locations include the Cartuja de Talamanca de Jarama (where Inés feasts in a tavern), the Castle La Quinta El Pardo and the Palacio Real de El Pardo (the Royal Palace again) where Goya witnesses the Spanish King learning about his relative’s (the French King’s) execution.
Finally on our last day of this city break we headed to Real Madrid’s Bernebeu football stadium. The home of the footballing giants, their huge stadium has a capacity of 85,454 spectators and was a great tourist day-out where you could go to the top of the stands, all the way to pitch-side via the trophy room and the player’s changing areas. We also got a visit to the press room after going down the tunnel and it was obligatory to sit in the manager’s seat in the dugout of course.
Home to historic matches both past and present, the world’s richest club has featured in the “Goal!” trilogy – especially Goal 2: Living the Dream from 2007. The film is a fictional account of a rising football star but actually stars many real life players in parts or cameos.
And with that we left this amazing city. Thank you, Madrid. You may be smaller in scale but you more than make up for it in friendliness and a welcoming attitude and I recommend any traveller to check out its charms.
Midlands Movies Mike
Check this link for a full list of films made in the city of Madrid:
Top Row (L-R): Puerta de Alcalá, the Royal Palace & Plaza Mayor
Bottom Row (L-R): Casa de Campo, Café del Príncipe, Bernabeu Stadium, Twist & Shout Bar, Dino fun!