“Londoners have 107 ways to say that it’s raining”
This was one of so many little details that Paddington (the movie) gets right about London. It’s a delightful story in which London is not just the setting, but also one of the main characters. If you’re planning to travel to London – it offers a great introduction to many of the city’s sights as well as some of the little details that bring London to life.
The plot initially follows that of the original Paddington book (A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond). Paddington makes his way to London as a stowaway on a ship from “Darkest Peru” – surviving the journey on nothing but marmalade sandwiches. He arrives at Paddington Station, and starts searching for a kind soul to take him in. Unfortunately for Paddington Bear, Paddington Station turns out to be a very hectic place with people rushing every which way, too busy and self-absorbed to notice a lonely bear. Finally, the Brown family comes across Paddington and takes an interest in him.After some intra-family negotiation, they agree to bring him home.
Hijinks ensue as the Browns help Paddington try to get comfortable. They begin the search for the British explorer who had promised his bear family in Peru a warm welcome and a place to stay should they ever make it to London. Unfortunately as the plot twists, it turns out that the explorer’s daughter is determined to capture Paddington, have him stuffed, and put on display in London’s Natural History Museum! You’ll be relieved to know that it all ends well for Paddington and the Browns.
Location and Culture Notes
Many of London’s iconic locations are featured in the film. When Paddington first arrives, the viewer is treated to some great shots of the Tower Bridge and the London City Skyline. Paddington station is also (obviously) depicted, although filmmakers chose to use the striking facade of nearby Marylebone Station rather than the actual nondescript exterior of Paddington Station in the movie. If you take the Heathrow Express from Heathrow Airport, you’ll immediately recognize the real Paddington Station as the spot where Paddington meets his host family.
Filmed nearly entirely in England, there are many details that are typical of what one experiences in everyday London. From the tomato shaped ketchup dispensers, to the First Great Western Train Cars and the talkative and knowledgeable black cab drivers, Paddington’s London is anaccurate representation that will offer insight to visitors.. .
Parents may recognize Mr. Brown as Hugh Bonneville – better known as Lord Grantham – of Downton Abbey fame. When Paddington suggests that he could go home with the Browns, “if you’re sure it’s no trouble” – Mr. Brown responds, in true British-fashion, “Not at all” (when it’s very clear that he would much prefer that Paddington never set foot in his home).
The family and Paddington take a traditional London Black cab from Paddington Station to their home. The cabbie, with an East London accent, takes them on an unsolicited mini sightseeing tour – past the London Eye, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and Piccadilly Circus – before dropping them off in front of a posh-looking row of multicolored terraced homes.
On one of their first outings together, the Browns take Paddington on the Underground, a.k.a. the Tube. The Tube is free for kids under 10, making it an efficient and inexpensive way of getting around the city for families. The movie does a good job of capturing a first-time rider’s experience: Paddington struggles with the ticket gate and encounters what is perhaps the most sacred of Underground rules – standing on the right side of the escalator (although he misinterprets this guideline so that you don’t have to), so that those in a rush can trot down on the left unencumbered. Break this rule and you will be the recipient of many a nasty glance. On a rare occasion, a Londoner might even scold you for your transgression – but more often disapproval will be delivered via a series of barely audible, under-the-breath-mutterings. Just stay on the right, and try to make sure that your kids do as well.
In subsequent scenes, Paddington takes a walk in the rain past Buckingham Palace. A palace guard takes pity on him and invites him to take shelter in the small guard house. You’ll see these little shelters if you visit the palace – but don’t expect a guard to invite you in! To the contrary, these guards are famous for never breaking their stare – despite the many efforts at distraction from tourists! As Paddington sets out in search of the Explorer we see a view of the St. Paul’s Cathedral and the north side of the river across the distinctive Millennium Footbridge from the Tate Modern Museum (on the South side).
The final scenes take place in one of London’s most striking buildings – the Natural History Museum. There is so much to love about this building – both inside and out, for both kids and adults. The outside is striking in its design, made of bricks of varying colors and textures. Inside, the Main Hall’s soaring ceiling and a large dinosaur skeleton are truly impressive. If your kids love dinosaurs, this is a can’t-miss attraction! The Natural History Museum has one of the finest collections of dinosaur bones and fossils in the world.
If your kids remember the scene from the movie, you can re-enact the bit where the Browns and Paddington hid in the arches on the side of the main stairs – in order of descending height.
At the end of the film, Paddington quotes Mrs. Brown saying that “in London, everyone is different – but that means that anyone can fit in.” It’s a fitting sentiment to set the stage for a great experience in this amazing city!