Filming Cloud Atlas in Glasgow



Take one book by David Mitchell: My favourite, Cloud Atlas, which begins on a 19th century ship in the South Pacific and ends in post-apocalyptic Big Island, passing through a pre-WWII Belgium, 1970s San Francisco, early 21st century England and dystopian Korea.

Take one gritty Scottish city: Glasgow; the place that visitors are told to skip over in favour of Edinburgh because “it’s so much nicer.” I lived in Edinburgh for two years, but Glasgow might be my current favourite Scottish city.

So, Cloud Atlas. The book is structured in a kind of Matroyshka doll style where elements of the preceeding segment appear in the next and so on. Each segment — the South Pacific story; the Belgian story, dystopian Korea etc… — ends abruptly, sometimes mid-sentence, before being picked up again in the second half of the book as if in a kind of loop.

Unfilmable, I had thought, and yet production started on the movie, directed by the Wachowski brothers, this month. To my surprise I stumbled across part of the film set while walking through Glasgow one chilly evening last week. Checking the newspapers, I learned that Halle Berry had been filming scenes on that spot earlier in the day. She was playing Luisa Ray, which meant that Glasgow was a stand-in for … San Francisco?

Cloud Atlas set, Glasgow

I scratched my head. Glasgow as San Francisco? Well, there are the steep hills and… and I can’t really think of anything else but I look forward to seeing the film and seeing if I can suspend belief enough to believe in old Glasgie as the city by the Bay. In the meantime, this has to be great news for Glasgow; it’s the second Hollywood movie to be shot there in just a few weeks. Brad Pitt was recently in town to shoot World War Z, with Glasgow standing in that time for Philadelphia.

This mural represents some of the book's themes

This Guardian piece has some good notes on Glasgow’s role as film set, past and present, as well as some information on the thinking behind its doubling as San Francisco:

“…it is easy to see how these streets can stand in for San Francisco the layout’s “decidedly San Franciscan effects” are even noted in Andrew Gomme and David Waller’s book, Architecture of Glasgow.”

Although of course there is the inevitable cabbie moaning about heavy traffic.


3 thoughts on “Filming Cloud Atlas in Glasgow

  1. What is this book and why haven’t I heard of it? Sounds like a glorious mindfuck (sorry to drop f-bombs on my first comment; honestly couldn’t think of a better word). Will they film the post-apoc part in Glasgow too?

    World War Z as well? I need to start paying more attention to Scotland.

    1. Haha, it is a bit of a mindfuck. The book was very popular a few years ago, so much so that some critics dismissed it as a “beach read,” but really I think it is brilliant. Heh, there are a few parts of Glasgow that already look post-apocalyptic 🙂

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