Raising the bar

A movie pub crawl.

by Jennie Kermode

A drink in The Green Dragon.
A drink in The Green Dragon.

With The World’s End now in cinemas, reminding us just how much some people are willing to put up with for a night in the pub, we decided to take a look at pubs in film more widely. How realistic are they? What do you need to know before you visit? And if you could choose to drink in any pub in film, what would it be?

Laurie Cansfield, who runs www.properpubs.tv, a site dedicated to showing films about pubs, was quick to respond to the latter question. “There's something about an Olde Worlde pub that inspires a feeling of adventure and simpler times,” he said. “If we're talking fictional pubs then the Green Dragon from Lord Of The Rings is a good contender. It's got ale, which I like, and there's rarely any trouble there by the looks of it. The thing is though, I like a pub with a bit more of an edge. Somewhere where you won't get any trouble unless you're looking for it, but there's a bit of danger in the air. The Dragon's a bit like a fantasy Wetherspoons really, and they only serve beer in halves! The next one that sprang to mind was the Snuggly Duckling in Tangled. Definitely a rougher crowd in there, but maybe a bit too rough with all those baddies making it their local, plus it's all blokes. So back to LOTR territory I think, where the Prancing Pony offers all of the following... Ales in pints, a rowdy but good humoured atmosphere, friendly bar staff and multicultural patrons, rooms to stay overnight (if you're on a bike trip for example) and a bread 'n' cheese based food menu that's so straightforward that choosing your meal won't cut into your drinking time. So that's the film pub I'd go to if I could!”

When it comes to pubs with an edge, there’s no shortage of places to choose from, though staying out of trouble might be tricky. In 1971, Sam Peckinpah took the cosy atmosphere of the traditional English pub and turned it on its head in Straw Dogs, creating a place where they definitely don’t like strangers. Versions of this pub also appear throughout the world of Hammer Horror, from The Reptile to The Plague Of The Zombies, whilst other Hammer pubs are ostensibly welcoming to strangers but unwilling to get on the wrong side of the local aristocrat – especially if he has pointy teeth. Roman Polanski spoofed these in The Fearless Vampire Killers, a film that stands out because it lets its barmaid become the heroine rather than becoming a snack.

"Um, two pints of lager and a packet of crisps, please."
"Um, two pints of lager and a packet of crisps, please."

The hostile pub persists well into the modern age, even in London, where the heroes of Withnail And I run in fear from the Mother Black Cap after being threatened by another customer. In a scene that was censored for some US audiences, Trainspotting reminds us of the potential dangers of going to the ‘bathroom’ in a pub with the wrong accent. The denizens of The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf In London might make its heroes fear a similar experience, but in that case it’s leaving the pub, when the moon is full, that turns out to be a bad idea. As Shaun Of The Dead shows us, a pub can be a place of refuge, with The Winchester offering comfort even if it’s not quite the most zombie-proof place in the world.

Zombies may at least provide a good excuse for a lock-in, but you don’t need one if you travel to Pimlico, at least in 1949, when a Passport To Pimlico can gain you entry to an independent state where the pubs never close. A similar approach is taken on some Scottish islands where the police rarely visit. There’s no need to worry about the Hot Fuzz throwing out underage drinkers on Summerisle, and in The Wicker Man local The Green Man you can expect to pull more than just a pint.

The strange customs of the British pub can be difficult for outsiders to navigate. Invading Germans in Went The Day Well? are almost caught out when buying beer in the village pub, a nod to the nemesis of many real life Nazi spies – they just couldn’t make sense of pounds, shillings and pence. Things seem much simpler in a cosmopolitan place like Rick’s Café in Casablanca, where everyone is welcome as long as they’re not Ingrid Bergman. But even exotic pubs have their proper codes of conduct, as in A Clockwork Orange, where it’s okay to carry a flick-knife but absolutely not okay to interrupt a singer.

How far would you go for a nice pint of beer and a sit down? The hobbit heroes of The Lord Of The Rings go a long way there and back again to save the Green Dragon, but we think the ultimate prize goes to the hard pressed soldiers who trek across the desert in a ailing truck with a possible Nazi spy in tow just to enjoy something Ice Cold In Alex.

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