Top 10 films set in Manchester

If you are thinking about coming to Manchester or Salford to study English and then a university degree, then you should familiarise yourself with the culture of the area. A great way of improving your English is by watching films, or if you are a lower level you could watch film clips. There are a myriad of films based in London. However, you are planning on studying in Manchester so it would be a good idea to watch a few films that are based in Manchester and Salford. You can impress your classmates and teachers with your cultural knowledge and you can seek out the locations where the films were made. You can also observe how Manchester and Salford have radically changed over the years or not as the case may be. You may even spot a statue that is still standing to this day and walk the same path as a famous figure from Manchester’s past. In a recent survey people were asked what they thought the second city in England was, some people said Birmingham. Mancunians said London. In the words of the late, great Tony Wilson, “This is Manchester, we do things differently here.”

1. A Taste of Honey (1961)

This black and white film is based on the play written by Shelagh Delaney when she was 19. This film is a prime example of the genre, British Realist Cinema or kitchen sink drama. These films dealt with gritty, often Northern issues set against an industrial backdrop. A Taste of Honey was set in the 1950s in Salford and deals with highly complicated issues such as motherhood, racism and homosexuality not to mention other social issues such as poverty, poor housing and teenage pregnancy. Issues not tackled on the screen at that time and highly controversial. The story centres on Jo played by Rita Tushingham aged 18 and her mother Helen played by Dora Bryan. Their relationship is complicated to say the least. The film begins with the pair moving into a squalid flat in Salford. Imagine a time before indoor toilets, central heating, hot running water and IKEA.

My favourite part of the film is when Jo takes a bus journey through Salford to Stockport, along The Crescent and past Salford University up to Salford Royal hospital. There’s a statue which you can still see there today, opposite what was the old Transport and General Workers Union offices. They pass through the centre of Manchester and you can see Albert Square with the statue of William Gladstone to the right of the centre. They also go on a trip to Blackpool. When Jo meets her boyfriend Jimmie, a black sailor then we can see how the docks and quays in Salford operated in their heyday.

By watching this film you will learn so much about the history and industrial heritage of Salford and Manchester. Notwithstanding how ordinary people lives have changed and certainly how attitudes have changed. You can see first hand how the urban landscape has changed. You may even be living or staying in a converted mill, warehouse or in Salford Quays. This film offers a great chance to improve your English by being exposed to different accents and the fact that people spoke differently back then together with taking a historical look at back at Manchester and Salford’s industrial roots.

2. A Kind of Loving (1962)

This is another kitchen sink drama directed by John Schlesinger. It is based on a book by Stan Barstow of the same name, published in 1960. The film follows draughtsman Vic (Alan Bates) and typist Ingrid (June Ritchie) who both work together in a Lancashire factory in the 1960s. Filming locations include, Preston, Blackburn, Salford, Manchester, Radcliffe and St.Anne’s-on-Sea. Ingrid accidentally falls pregnant so the two are forced to wed, though Vic isn’t as taken with Ingrid as she is with him. Vic finds himself trapped as a young man who has to contend with an interfering mother-in-law. He becomes disillusioned as his life has not turned out exactly as he had intended.

The film also gives us an insight into the world of the working class man in the 1960s. Many of the films of this genre and from this era centre around an angry young man who is disillusioned with traditional British society. Vic is a fine example of this. This film has great accents to be savoured and enjoyed. Thoroughly enjoyable and a window to a past way of life.

3. Raining Stones (1993)

Fast forward 31 years. Raining Stones by the award winning and highly acclaimed British film director, Ken Loach. I love his films which tell the stories of ordinary folk and their various struggles. His films are modern day kitchen sink dramas in my opinion. They also highlight modern social injustices and inequalities. Many of Loach’s films feature unknown actors with regional accents. He posits that working people’s struggles are inherently dramatic.

This film tells the story of a man devoted to his family and his religion. It is set in Middleton, an area of Manchester. Proud but poor the main character Bob, played by Bruce Jones, wants his little girl to have a beautiful (and expensive) brand new dress for her Holy Communion. His mission to raise the funds gets him into trouble as he turns to more questionable and dubious measures to raise the cash. Remember Crowdfunder and the like didn’t exist in 1993. In his desperation to get the dress he almost loses the family that he loves so much.

4. East is East (1999)

This film is a comedy-drama set in Salford in the 1970s. It is based on a stage play of the same name. Starring Om Puri, Linda Bassett and Jimi Mistry, it takes a wry look at a Pakistani chip shop owner’s efforts to raise his kids amid cultural tensions in 1970s Salford.

George Khan is a Pakistani Muslim who has lived in Britain since 1937. He has a wife in Pakistan. He and his second wife Ella, a British Roman Catholic woman of Irish descent have been married for 25 years and have 7 children. They run a popular chippy in Salford.

The film is a great insight into mixed marriages and the effect it has on children. George expects his children to follow his strict Pakistani Muslim ways. However, his children with an English mother, born and brought up in Salford, Britain, increasingly see themselves as British and start to reject their father’s rules on dress, food, religion and living in general. An enjoyable and thought-provoking film.

5. There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble (2000)

It would be quite impossible to find a film set in Manchester that is not football related. Given that the city of Manchester boasts two Premier League football teams.

Jimmy Grimble, played by Lewis McKenzie, is a 15-year-old misfit living in Oldham, Manchester. His life isn’t great, he’s being bullied at school and at home he has to contend with his mum’s new boyfriend.

Jimmy is an ardent supporter of Manchester City and he goes to the match with his Mum’s ex boyfriend. Jimmy loves playing football too. He’s not a bad player but when an old woman gives him a pair of boots that once belonged to one of City’s greatest players, his skills and fortunes on the pitch begin to change.

A real feelgood film starring some great British Actors too, Gina McKee, Robert Carlyle and Ray Winstone.

6. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

This is one of my all time favourites. I am a massive music fan and really proud of the Manchester music scene. This film takes it title from a famous song by The Happy Mondays. The film is the story of Factory Records, a defiantly eccentric independent record label based in Manchester. You can still visit the offices and see the iconic doors. Factory discovered world famous and critically acclaimed artists such as Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays, Durrutti Column and A Certain Ratio. It also charts the rise of House Music and the Rave Scene in the UK.

It is shot in mock-documentary style and narrated by Tony Wilson wonderfully portrayed by Steve Coogan. The film charts the rise and fall of the Factory label and even features cameo appearances by various Manchester faces from the music scene. The film is a dramatisation based on reality, rumours, urban legends and the imaginings of the scriptwriter. It is not a rock biopic.

The story of Factory Records and the rise and fall of The Hacienda is in itself an amazing true story. It brings to mind the phrase truth is stranger than fiction. By watching this film you will gain an insight into the world of Manchester music. Impress your new friends by sharing your new found musical knowledge. You will also be exposed to more wondrous dulcet tones of the North. Music to your ears on two levels, musically and in terms of accents.

7. Control (2007)

This is the tragic story of the late lead singer Ian Curtis, of Joy Division. It is directed by Anton Corbijn in black and white who photographed the band when they first appeared on the Manchester music scene. There is an iconic shot of the band on Hulme Bridge. Go there and recreate that classic black and white image. The film is based on the book, Touching from a Distance, by Curtis’ widow Deborah.

The film is set in Macclesfield, Salford and Manchester as that’s where the members of Joy Division are from. Starring Sam Riley and Samantha Morton as Ian and Deborah Curtis, the film documents the couple’s lives from 1973 to 1980. It focuses on their marriage, the formation of Joy Division, Ian’s struggle with epilepsy, his affair with Annik Honore and his suicide in May 1980. This happened as the band were on the brink of touring the US.

The film’s title is based on the Joy Division song, She’s Lost Control. Sam Riley’s portrayal of Curtis is impressive and he can mimick the trademark Ian Curtis dance.

Basically, you need to watch this film and listen to some Joy Division to begin your journey towards being an honoury Mancunian.

8. Looking for Eric (2009)

This is another film with a football theme, though this time time The Red Devils aka Manchester United. It is directed by Ken Loach and centres around the life of postman Eric. He confides in a poster of the famous number 7, French Man Utd player,Eric Cantona who then goes on to offer him life coaching skills in the pre Instagram era. Eric Cantona plays himself in the film.

Eric is struggling at work and at a single Dad. His chats with Eric Cantona give him advice and escape from his problematic life.

This is a brilliant film and shows us that friends and family may be able to help us more than celebrities. It also offers the chance to hear some thick Manc accents and of course Cantona’s wonderful French English accent. Ooh aaah Cantona.

9. Spike Island (2012)

Another film with a musical connection. This time a comedy centring on The Stone Roses’ gig on Spike Island in Widnes, Cheshire, England in 1990. The Stone Roses are a band from Manchester that jumped to fame in the second summer of love between 1988 and 1989 which such the explosion of acid house parties and rave. The Stone Roses were big on this scene with their version of psychedelic rock.

The film follows a group of friends who are massive fans of the band and try to get into the gig, but they don’t have tickets or transport. The group of friends have their own band Shadowcaster.

Spike Island is a fun, coming of age, British indie flick and a great trip down memory lane before phones at gigs and YouTube.

10. Peterloo (2018)

Last, but by no means least is a historical film that charts the very roots of the values that many Mancunians hold. The quest for justice and fairness and workers rights.

Directed by Mike Leigh, starring Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, Neil Bell and Philip Bell. This film documents events leading up to the story of The Peterloo Massacre where British forces attacked a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Manchester.

The site of this massacre is opposite Central Library. You may catch a tram from St. Peter’s Square and feel the past beneath your feet and think about the ordinary people who on that day with their families and children assembled in St Peter’s Fields to demand parliamentary reform an extension of voting rights. There was a crowd of 60,000 people. This was a peaceful protest and a great orator of the time, Henry Hunt spoke at the rally. In their attempt to arrest the leader of the meeting the yeomanry panicked and charged at the crowd hacking away at them with sabres. 18 people were killed and up to 700 wounded. In its aftermath there was a crackdown on reform.

Much of the dialogue in this film is in traditional Lancashire dialect so yet more exposure to the rich variety of English accents and dialects.

6 thoughts on “Top 10 films set in Manchester

  1. Some interesting films to catch up with there, and I think Manchester is also a popular set for TV shows isn’t it Peaky Blinders? Cold feet and going back a few years Prime Suspect are some I know of but there must be more?

    Liked by 1 person

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