hidden europe 16

Make believe: the geography of films

by Nicky Gardner


Film directors often morph real world geographies to suit their own purposes. Docks on the River Thames stand in for Venice, and Granada in southern Spain suddenly is given new life as a Turkish port. We look at a few examples of transposed geography.

Some films very beautifully evoke a spirit of landscape and a sense of place. Think of the Sicilian scenes in The Godfather. So often films succeed in seducing us into believing that they really were filmed in the places they purport. But where were they really shot?

David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965) seems to capture quintessential Russia, but the movie was actually filmed in Spain, Finland and Canada. The Rocky Mountains stand in for the snowy Urals, and as most of us don't actually know what the Urals might look like in mid-winter, the trick works. Perhaps it was while making his earlier movie epic, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), that David Lean decided that Spain could act as a plausible double for Russia.

Substantial sections of Lawrence of Arabia really were filmed in Spain. True, there is some fabulous desert scenery in the film, as in the sequences filmed at Wadi Rum in Jordan and in Morocco. But Spain features much more heavily. The scenes depicting Peter O'Toole and his motley band of Bedouin followers attacking a train on the Hejaz railway were not filmed in the Middle East at all. Rather, they were shot in the extreme southeast corner of Spain, near the Cabo de Gata. And what of that famous beach scene after the fall of Aqaba in Jordan?

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