Wednesday, 22 February 2017

'Educating Rita', from Zoom to Mooz

Believe it or not, an upmarket new Italian grocer in Stoneybatter called Mooz was once a location for a very famous film from 1983.

Educating Rita was filmed entirely in Ireland, mostly in Dublin (though NUI Maynooth stood in for France for one brief scene). Mooz didn't exist back then; until this year the premises at 1 Manor Street was still a unisex hairdressers, the Zoom Hair Studio. So for one morning in 1982 Zoom became the salon where the film's working-class student Rita (Julie Walters) worked.

Julie Walters and Marie Conmee in "Educating Rita"

Her customer here (if you know the film it's "the bondage scene") is played by the highly prolific Irish stage and screen actor, comedian and theatre director Marie Conmee.

Through the salon window you can make out two shops across the street at the time: Mannings - I think it was a bakery but wouldn't swear to it - and Dunn's fish factory. The latter had been there since the mid-1960s and was part of Ireland’s oldest fish company at the time.

Above and below: Dunn's and Mannings

Around 2003 these buildings were torn down to build Norseman Court (see below), a mostly four-storey complex of apartments and retail units. The biggest unit began as a Londis but had become a Centra by the time it closed earlier this year. So the view today from that particular spot in Zoom (or Mooz) would be completely different, looking onto Norseman Court and its hardware store, florists, café and PC/Internet shop.

The Phoenix Park, TCD and the docks

Some of the film's main locations in venerable old institutions have hardly changed. The Phoenix Park, where Rita and her Open University tutor Frank (Michael Caine) argue about the poetry of William Blake, is the same as ever.

So too is the magnificent front square of Trinity College Dublin, apart from some extra signs and the flat paths that they added through the cobblestones some ten years ago to improve wheelchair accessibility (Trinity trivia: the cobblestones themselves only date from the 1950s!).

But other places are almost unrecognisable today. Rita takes the bus down Sir John Rogerson's Quay to her home around Ringsend. There are two or three obvious landmarks in the distance - the Custom House, Liberty Hall - but the journey gives glimpses of the sheer desolation of this eastern end of the quays by the beginning of the 1980s.

Since then the docklands have changed utterly. The docks have been containerised and traditional working-class communities and crafts have been squeezed out, to make way for financial capital and hi-tech firms, with office blocks, tree-lined promenades, hotels, conference centres, the Luas line, the Point theatre (or whatever it's called this week) and all those new skyscrapers being built around the Grand Canal district, near the big theatre on Misery Hill where the huge gasometer used to be.

Rita also takes the bus down Grafton Street past Woolworths. The street was only temporarily pedestrianised in December that year, and permanently pedestrianised a year later, when Woolies would close its doors for the very last time.

In another scene Frank picks Rita up from the railway station at Pearse Street which, like Connolly, once had a long ramp up for cars and taxis. I'd completely forgotten about that ramp. It's long gone, largely replaced by Goldsmith Hall, an extension of TCD.

More Stoneybatter connections

Another set of scenes - for the wedding of Rita's sister Sandra - was shot at the Church of the Holy Family on Aughrim Street in Stoneybatter. The church and that particular stretch of the street haven't changed a jot since then.

The Aughrim Street church in the film

Next time you see the film, though, check out the wedding photographer's assistant standing by the tripod in the (artificial?) snow. Though not credited, he just has to be actor and comedian Michael Redmond, probably best known to TV viewers as the boring Father Stone in Father Ted.

While in Dublin, the film crew also used the school in nearby Stanhope Street as a production base. But the most unusual Stoneybatter connection to the film has to be the stairs that the mature student and her drunken prof run up and down in Trinity College. In real life the stairway ended up in the Nancy Hands pub on Parkgate Street.

Up to the mid 1990s Nancy’s was the Deer Park – a much smaller pub where factory girls would flock on Friday nights for a few scoops and rowdy singsongs, in the days when Cowtown still had its fair share of factories and sewing machines.

Around the end of 1997 the Deer Park was demolished (as well as part of a video shop next door), and a much bigger pub with a new name was built on the site, using plenty of architectural salvage, including that very same staircase from Trinners. I had a bit of fun by literally plonking a key scene in Black Marigolds on those very same stairs in Nancy's.

For more on the film and its main themes and how it used some of the spaces - particularly Trinity - check out an interesting essay by Eileen Leahy on TCD's "Shot at Trinity" online resource.