Why Gothic Edinburgh was born to be Gotham City – Alastair Stewart

He's Batman: Edinburgh-born actor Iain Glen is set to play the Caped Crusader in TV show Titans (Picture: Ian West/PA Wire)
He's Batman: Edinburgh-born actor Iain Glen is set to play the Caped Crusader in TV show Titans (Picture: Ian West/PA Wire)
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If I was to say Edinburgh should be the next Gotham City, you might call me mad. But with Edinburgh-born Iain Glen cast as the Caped Crusader on the TV show ‘Titans’, we might get to see Batman come home after all.

And home it would be. The “world’s greatest detective” (that’s Batman), his sidekick and butler are second only to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s seminal investigator, compatriot and landlady. Moriarty was the symbiotic necessity for Holmes as the Joker was to the Dark Knight.

And Batman-creator Bob Kane even freely admitted that a certain two-faced villain was influenced by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He also mentions in his biography that Bruce Wayne was taken from Robert the Bruce and Anthony Wayne, a brigadier general in American Revolutionary War.

Call me romantic, but the thought of an Edinburgh-set Batman series ignites the soul. Everyone knows the iconic Trainspotting (1996) run along Princes Street, yet you’ll be hard pressed to find another film that revels in modern Edinburgh.

There’s natural cultural chemistry in the city that lets it double or serve as a Victorian, Edwardian and early 20th-century backdrop. From The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) to Chariots of Fire (1981) to Shallow Grave (1994), there’s plenty of Edinburgh in the background, but it’s never used as a full set in its own right. It’s just sort of there.

More modern films like One Day (2011) and Cloud Altas (2012) don’t shy away from the city either, but it’s more for shots than sequences. Harry Potter is a mixed bag, chiefly as parts are filmed in Scotland, but not Edinburgh, despite its origins.

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I watched The Avengers: Infinity War (2018) in Macedonia last year and jumped out of my seat when Captain America made an appearance at Waverley Station and fight ensued over Cockburn Steet. “I’ve eaten there!”, “I’ve drunk there!” while frantically pointing at the TV in the living room.

An old warehouse in Leith was temporarily turned into a film studio as part of the production for the film. The site has since been approved as a permanent large-scale film and TV production facility to join Wardpark Studios as Scotland’s second film studio. Long overdue is an understatement.

But that won’t solve the issue. The new Lord of the Rings TV series will be partially set in the new studio and Outlander is already extensively filmed from Wardpark. Edinburgh seems to be a neglected cash cow for cinema.

At the end of the last Avengers movie, a friend latterly pointed out that the ‘Norwegian’ town Thor and his compatriots ended up living in was, in fact in St Abbs in Berwickshire.

So, on the one hand, you have Edinburgh and Scotland being used as a backdrop and then you have them doubling as other locations. The ideal situation is Edinburgh being Edinburgh. Outlander had fun historic stop-off in the capital, but hardly an in-depth exploration, to say nothing of it being set in the 1760s. I still enjoy watching the first 10 minutes of A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959) with James Mason just to see Arthur’s Seat in the 50s.

Maybe it’s the Rebus fan within me getting prideful, but there’s a delight in seeing modern Edinburgh on screen. Flicking through the pages of the Rebus novels and watching the TV show, they may be good yarns but there’s a particular joy in seeing how the city has and hasn’t changed. Its essence is one of static evolution; the same stage with changing shop fronts.

Edinburgh deserves more of a cinematic going-over than merely being an interesting backdrop for films and TV. Its macabre history, its claustrophobic closes and unrivalled gothic architecture make it ideal as a setting, not just an inspiration, and hopefully, the new film infrastructure will indulge that.

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There’s already a litany of monuments and plaques and tourist books dedicated to the minds of Dickens, Stevenson, Rowling and others who drew intense inspiration from this place. Why not directors too?

The city can and should have a more ambitious cinematic view of itself. Certainly, it shouldn’t be held back by the idea it’s too emblematically Scottish. Christian Bale as Batman and Henry Cavil as Superman anglicised the most American of icons. The 57-year-old Glenn will presumably be taking on the role of an older, angrier Bruce Wayne. What a shame his native Edinburgh can’t be the backdrop of a new, modern show.

I’m fixated on Batman not just because of its gothic undertones but because of how successfully the story has been adapted and modernised again and again. There would be something so glorious in seeing the character working and fighting across in Edinburgh; the perfect mesh of old soul and modern storytelling.

And what is Edinburgh, if not that?

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He writes regular features on politics and history with a particular interest in nationalism and the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart