Hollywood's rubbish Tube geography in Thor 2 is an unnecessary distraction

Londoners know the Tube map off by heart, so why do scriptwriters test their patience with needless mistakes?

The recently released film Thor: The Dark World is a huge fantasy epic spanning nine intergalactic realms, following the story of an alien creature with god-like powers fighting to save the universe from the powers of darkness. But what really killed the film’s gritty realism for me was the poor Tube geography.

Londoners are not known for their willingness to talk whilst on public transport, or their politeness, but it’s an unspoken point of pride that when asked by a tourist that they will give the quickest and most accurate directions. The London Underground is so central to the city that even if you’re not a native (I emigrated from Leicester a few years ago), Harry Beck’s iconic Tube map will become ingrained into your mind. So when Thor gets on the Tube at Charing Cross and is told by a fellow passenger he is three stops from Greenwich, it’s intensely frustrating.

Why couldn’t they have just fixed the script? Surely the actor who they employed for just that one line was a local who would know? Unfortunately for Thor, the correct route isn’t quite so simple. He’d have to leave the Tube station, hop on the national rail train from Charing Cross mainline station, and change at London Bridge. And even then to get to Greenwich Park, where shit was going down, it might be quicker to go to Maze Hill station, one stop after Greenwich.

Or how about taking the short walk to Embankment, taking the District to Monument, changing to Bank and taking the DLR to Cutty Sark? Or there’s even the number 53 bus - though if he takes this latter option, the odds of him turning up just in the nick of time are going to be significantly reduced.

Thor 2 isn’t alone though in getting London wrong. Last year’s Bond film, Skyfall, had Bond board a train at Temple station that aficionados (that’s how I’m choosing to refer to train spotters) will be able to tell you was actually a deep-level Jubilee line train rather than the sort used on the District and Circle lines. And this isn’t even to mention the fact that in Bond’s world, the District line apparently serves the Spitalfields (EDIT: Smithfields) area.

Similarly, the cerebral thriller Fast & Furious 6 at one point has a fight in the tunnels at Aldwych station only to emerge in what Vin Diesel’s character later refers to as Waterloo station - though this is perhaps forgivable in comparison to the film’s utterly bizarre street race sequence above ground. In this case, they hold a loud party literally next to the Foreign Office (how did they get a permit for that?) before racing along a bizarre route up Whitehall, skipping Trafalgar Square, emerging at Piccadilly Circus from the wrong direction before, umm, somehow heading north up Whitehall again. Though I guess this is a film that also tries to pass off a barely disguised Lambeth Bridge as Moscow (some onion domes have been added to buildings in post-production), and Senate House as Interpol HQ.

Perhaps the worst London geography fail I’ve seen, though, is in the 2009 Bollywood film London Dreams. At the start of the film a boy called Arjun and his uncle come to London in search of stardom. When they arrive at Heathrow, Arjun runs away... and manages to run all the way to Shad Thames. Just over 20 miles away. Impressive.

Okay, so London geography errors are pretty common - but why do they persist? It’s such a trivial thing, why can’t filmmakers get them right?

In the case of the Tube, the reason is practical. The two most common filming locations on the Underground are the disused station at Aldwych (seen in Fast & Furious 6), which used to be on a branch of the Piccadilly line until it closed in 1994, and the similarly disused Jubilee line platforms at Charing Cross (used for Skyfall and Thor 2), which were used until the line was extended to Stratford via Westminster in 1999. It’s much easier to film on some closed track than upset thousands of commuters.

Now, am I kicking up a fuss over something essentially trivial? Well, yes - but what I don’t understand is how millions of dollars can be spent on making a giant spaceship appear to hover over the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich, yet for some reason the budget doesn’t extend to fixing a few rogue signposts in the a Tube station.

And given how London is home to six million people - many of whom presumably like to watch films - can’t a little more care be taken? This can’t be unique to London either - I imagine residents of New York, Los Angeles and many other cities must find this maddening. Am I the only person who finds rubbish geography distracting?

If you want to find me to argue, I’ll be on platform 12 at Clapham Junction. I’ll be the guy with the notebook and the anorak.

Thor in Greenwich, which is not three stops from Charing Cross. (Image: Marvel)
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Gael blown: how cultural appropriation went hand-in-hand with the Highland clearances

Madeleine Bunting’s account of her travels in the Hebrides reveals an often-overlooked history.

In the opening pages of this excellent book, Madeleine Bunting tries to provide a justification and rationale both for her Hebridean journey and then her wish to write about the most complex of Britain’s archipelagos. As she points out, the Hebrides comprise no fewer than 270 islands and islets, 51 of which are permanently inhabited, and the Hebridean coastline, at 2,500 kilometres, is almost three-quarters that of England’s.

It transpires that Bunting’s connection to the nation’s north-western extremities really began when her parents went for holidays to a fragment of what she rather archly refers to as the Gàidhealtachd, the cultural territory of Scotland’s Gaelic-speaking, predominantly croft-working population.

Yet the Buntings’ “Promised Land”, as she calls their summer retreat, was nowhere near the Hebrides. It was in a hamlet called Amat at the heart of the salmon-rich Strathcarron, in Sutherland, near Scotland’s north-eastern coast. These visits were intermittent and happened only in her childhood, since when the author, Yorkshire born and bred, has migrated to London and become a committed metropolitan as well as a senior journalist with the Guardian. What right, one wonders, does she have to des­cribe her travels along Scotland’s Atlantic shoreline as in any way a “search for home”?

The answer is time and commitment. It has taken Bunting eight years to write this book and she made one excursion after the other in order to assemble her thoughts of these beautiful, storm-battered islands. That depth of engagement gives authen­ticity to the writing and substance to her arguments. In truth, she never really claims the Outer Isles as her own but she does ­inquire deeply into the Hebridean people’s own passionate devotion to place. She also illuminates how these islands, but more especially Celtic culture and identity, were instrumental in shaping all of Britain’s, and especially England’s, sense of self.

A critical moment for this came in 1765 with the publication by James Macpherson of The Works of Ossian. These were translations of Gaelic poetry and folk tales that went down a storm in literary Europe and alerted many to the overlooked oral culture of northern Scotland. The Works of Ossian are not without controversy – Samuel Johnson infamously dismissed them as fake and sneered at Gaelic as the “rude speech of a barbarous people” – but the book had a huge impact on Romanticism.

Imbued with Rousseau’s notions of the noble savage and antipathetic to the effects of industrialisation, writers such as Keats and artists such as Turner were suddenly alive to the savage beauties and the more authentic life-ways of the Scottish west coast. Bunting shows that behind this Romantic engagement with Hebridean life was a kind of cultural imperialism that developed through a series of opposites. If Celts were depicted as imaginative, idealistic and wild, then, almost by definition, the Anglos were utilitarian, pragmatic and civilised. If the Gael was backward-looking and melancholic, the Saxon must be optimistic and forward-thinking. Above all, the English were utterly dominant.

The author demonstrates how such cultural appropriation was intimately connected to territorial dispossession. Bunting takes us on a brief tour of the Clearances; the retelling still has the power to enrage, and she shows how the treatment of Hebridean crofters was identical to British imperialism in Africa or Asia. As she puts it tellingly, this is a “history which will not go quietly into the past”. Yet she also demonstrates that it was not Hanoverian England alone which suppressed the Gàidhealtachd. Much of the dirtiest work was done by former clan chiefs who had simply reinvented themselves as London-based grandees.

Bunting further points out that this colonial exploitation has hardly ceased. The recent plans to build a vast windfarm on Lewis, involving 234 turbines with sails the size of jumbo jets, and the 1990s quarry scheme to dismantle whole mountains on Harris to build English roads, are further demonstrations of how the centre plunders resources from its Atlantic periphery.

If I have a small disappointment in Love of Country, it is that Bunting makes too little of the Hebridean natural environment, which involves the most harmonious transaction between human beings and wildlife now found anywhere in Britain. The shell-based coastal lawns known as machair are among Europe’s richest habitats, still smothered in orchids and resounding to the sounds of lapwing display and curlew song.

At times one feels that Bunting thinks much harder than she looks. Occasionally she betrays her metropolitan roots. She describes rivers as being “the colour of manuka honey”, and of a chorus of birds like nothing she had heard before, she writes that “the air vibrated . . . setting all my senses alert”. The prose, however, is always most elevated when she engages the formidable clarity of her intellect. It is the almost perfect marriage of physical travelogue to the inner landscape of political ideas and cultural reflections that makes this such a super read. I cannot think of a more intellectually challenging or rewarding travel book in recent years, except perhaps Jay Griffiths’s Wild.

Love of Country is in every way a richer, more mature work than Bunting’s award-winning 2009 memoir, The Plot. I expect it to bring her prizes and fame.

Mark Cocker’s books include “Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet” (Vintage)

Love of Country: a Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting is published by Granta Books (368pp, £18.99)

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood