Coventry - the silver screen's forgotten extra
The city's surprising connections with some of the great (and not-so-great) moments in British cinema
In 1928, British Filmcraft Productions produced a 15 minute silent epic called The Lady Godiva as part of their Ghosts of Yesterday series. Based on the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, it starred Gladys Jenkins as Godiva and Roy Travers as Earl Leofric.
In 1930, Coventry-born baritone Dennis King co-starred with Jeanette MacDonald in the first film version of The Vagabond King. Three years later he played alongside Laurel and Hardy in Fra Diavolo.
Coventry-born Constance Godridge won a Gaumont British ‘film star’ contest in the 1930s. She was groomed for stardom but her career flared only briefly, notably in the Jessie Matthews vehicle First A Girl in 1935.
In the 1951 British satire Lady Godiva Rides Again, Pauline Stroud played a pageant queen in a modernised version of the morality tale. The cast list reads like a who’s who of British comic talent – George Cole, Dora Bryan, Stanley Holloway, Diana Dors and Sid James. But the film sank without trace.
In 1955 Hollywood turned its attention to the story, producing the historical costume drama Lady Godiva. Maureen O’Hara and yards of red hair starred, while playing the role of first Saxon was the unknown 25-year-old Clint Eastwood.
Coventry has a somewhat bizarre place on the credits list for Sixties British cult movie The Italian Job. The Mini Cooper chase scenes beneath the streets of Rome were actually filmed in a giant sewer pipe, then being laid in the Stoke Aldermoor area of the city.
The first place to show films in Coventry was almost certainly the Sydenham Palace, a former music hall, in the 1890s.
By 1910 the city had acquired purpose-built cinemas like The Picture House in Smithford Street. It backed on to the market and before each showing two terriers were released into the auditorium to get rid of the rats.
Around this time Daimler proudly made a promotional film about their new motor factory in Coventry. It shows men in Norfolk jackets working in the company’s scientific laboratories and cars emerging from the works, watched by admiring crowds.
The Rex Cinema in Coventry, opened in 1937 as the last
word in luxury, received a direct hit in an air raid in August 1940. The following day it had been due to screen Gone With The Wind.
Actor Bill Owen, later of Last of the Summer Wine fame, fronted a
post-war Ministry of Information film, A City reborn, which was aimed at returning soldiers and featured Coventry as a city of the future.
Sir Nigel Hawthorne, star of the 1994 hit, The Madness of King George, was born in Coventry in 1929, the son of a doctor.
Actor Leigh Lawson, who starred in Roman Polanski’s Tess , is the son of a Coventry car worker.
The Robin Williams comedy Mrs Doubtfire was based on the book by Warwick University graduate Anne Fine.
Graduate directors from the university include Paul Anderson (Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon) and Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer).
The Full Monty was originally to be a Coventry story, set in a car factory. The idea came from the film’s city-born co-producer, Paul Bucknor, but was given a new setting by its Sheffield-born writer.
Coventry-based film director Debbie Isitt scored a hit in 2006 with Confetti, a humorous take on the customised wedding business.
Bridget Jones’s Diary, one of the early hits of 2001, was directed by Coventry-born Sharon Maguire, who grew up in the city and is the model for the character of Shazzer in the film.
Coventry actor Clive Owen, star of Sin City and Children of Men, missed out on an Oscar nomination in 2001 after his movie Croupier was judged to have breached Hollywood rules governing TV screenings.
Debbie Isitt’s Coventry-set family comedy Nativity! became the biggest grossing British film after its opening weekend in November 2009.
Pictured: Maureen O'Hara as Lady Godiva