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Little Voice - Film (Miramax, 1998)


Mr Boo's Club from the 1998 film Little Voice.

A critical and commercial success, Little Voice is perhaps the most well-known film to have been shot on location in Scarborough. Whilst the town's name is not used by the characters, and does not appear on any signage, there is significant use of the South Bay seafront and harbour area as well as a particular residential street, Barwick Terrace (off Gladstone Road). The closest the film comes to verbally acknowledging its setting is when showbiz agent, Ray Say (played by Michael Caine) mentions that he will be picking up a London-based talent scout from The Grand.

Released in December 1998, with a 15 certificate, I was too young to go and see it at the time. I was certainly aware of its release though; I had seen the posters and I remember it being the talk of the town. I would have to wait for it to be broadcast on terrestrial television, which might have been around four or five years later. I can't remember now what I thought of it at the time, I imagine I was just impressed that I was seeing Scarborough in a film, rather than on Look North, and that there was irrefutable evidence that Michael Caine had been to Scarborough. Watching it again in 2022, possibly 20 years since I last saw it, I soon realised that I had forgotten almost everything about the film, other than the central premise; a timid girl, who does not usually speak, has an incredible talent for being able to sing and sound just like the original artist.  

Before being made as a film, Little Voice was a play (titled The Rise and Fall of Little Voice), written by Jim Cartwright. The play wasn't set in Scarborough which perhaps explains the lack of reference to it in the film's dialogue. Jane Horrocks played LV (or Laura) in the play before reprising the role in the film, but Mari Hoff (LV's mother) was played by Alison Steadman in the stage production and by Brenda Blethyn in the film. It may also be interesting to note that Sam Mendes (director of Skyfall, Spectre and other non-Bond blockbusters) directed the original stage production in 1992. Oh, and Bruno Tonioli was a choreographer for the film. The screenplay of Little Voice was written by Mark Herman, the director. According to Wikipedia, Herman was born in Bridlington which perhaps explains the choice of Scarborough as a filming location.

I had searched online for a Blu-ray version of Little Voice, but I was unable to find one. What I noticed, watching the DVD is that Scarborough appears to be rather grey. Perhaps the weather wasn't great when they made the film, but maybe film that hasn't been digitally restored does look a bit grey compared with digital. There is something more familiar about Scarborough in Little Voice than how it appears in the last item I reviewed; the BBC sitcom Scarborough. I lived in Scarborough throughout the 90s and this film reminds me of what it looked like out of season, when the tourists weren't there to see it. 

Question: If you go to Scarborough out of season, does the sun come out? Answer: No.


Scarborough South Bay. Still image from the 1998 film Little Voice.
 Scarborough South Bay. Still image from Little Voice (1998, Miramax) 2min 59sec

Still image from Little Voice (1998, Miramax). Includes part of Scarborough South Bay Beach, the Grand and The Futurist Cinema.
Scarborough South Bay. The Grand Hotel, Futurist Cinema and Coney Island Amusement Arcade are notable buildings here. Still image from Little Voice (1998, Miramax) 22min 13sec

It's not all grey skies though, there are a fair few scenes that take place at night. The slightly drab reality of a northern seaside town works well as a setting for a film in which the characters have fairly mundane lives. At night, everything changes. At night, there are bright lights leading the way to clubs with entertainers on stages.

A red 1975 oldmobile delta 88 Royale drives past Coney Island on Foreshore Road, Scarborough, at night. Still image from the 1998 film Little Voice
Ray Say driving past Coney Island on Foreshore Road, Scarborough. Mari Hoff is the passenger standing up. Still image from Little Voice (1998, Miramax) 11min 49sec

Scarborough Spa Sun Court at night. Still image from the 1998 film Little Voice
The Scarborough Spa Sun Court with resplendent lighting, at night. Still image from Little Voice (1998, Miramax) 1hr 23min 42sec.

In addition to the contrast between the day and night scenes, there is also significant contrast between LV and her mother, Mari. LV doesn't leave the house and barely leaves her room. It is obvious that mother and daughter don't get on, but LV doesn't voice her concerns, she tries to block out Mari by playing her father's records. We can assume that LV hasn't always lived like this, that it is a result of her father's death. Both mother and daughter aren't coping very well, but they find some comfort; LV in the records and Mari in booze and men. Whilst LV is softly spoken and barely speaks, Mari has a loud voice which emits a constant stream of unfiltered thoughts and remarks. Brenda Blethyn's performance combined with the scripted dialogue results in a character that is rather bizarre, so much so that I found myself imagining the character appearing in an episode of Toast of London. The accent is difficult to place and, although I assume Blethyn was going for a Yorkshire accent, it sounds to my ears more like a Yorkshire/Scouse hybrid. Mari has some memorable lines, one particularly inventive one is when she shouts to LV who is upstairs, playing records, "Hey, up you! Trash the calypso!". Mari never seems to sit still, she is always on the move, and one line which encapsulates her lack of peace is "Take it back, I don't like the front." She is referring to the newspaper here, throwing it back at LV, seconds after requesting it. Sometimes though, we only get mildly amusing remarks, such as "The only good pigeons are in pies." On many occasions, Mari resorts to abrasive off-hand remarks (often directed at her daughter) which I'd rather not present here.

The house that Mari and LV live in is a former record shop which still bears the name Hoff Records. This was LV's father's shop and this is why she has a large record collection. Whilst her room is clean and tidy - an appealing sanctuary - the rest of the house isn't. The worst room is the kitchen which features a dirty and almost empty fridge with something rotting inside it. There is also bad wiring throughout the house and the characters often receive shocks when turning on appliances. This is all symbolic of Mari's neglect and her preference for nights out, on the booze, over cleanliness, a nutritious diet and a healthy relationship with her daughter.


Hoff Records. External shot from the 1998 film Little Voice (Miramax)
The former Hoff Records and the home of Mari and Laura Hoff. A building that has since been demolished from the corner of Barwick Terrace (off Gladstone Road). Still image from Little Voice (1998, Miramax) 3min 47sec.

The dilapidated building is in perfect keeping with the story. This is not a glamorous life and even though Ray Say has a flashy car and some showbiz connections, his credentials are dubious and his charm is a cover for his greed and desperation. His sleazy co-conspirator Mr Boo is something of a misery off stage, when not telling cheesy jokes, and it doesn't seem likely that the pair will be able to offer LV a better future. This film could have been a rags to riches story, but it is actually more interesting than that. Despite the eccentricity of Mari Hoff, the story is grounded in realism and, instead of it being about LV finding success as a performer, it is about her finding her own voice and standing up to her mother. 

Ray Say's final scene is a satisfying one in which he addresses his shortcomings in rather an amusing way, but Mari does nothing to redeem herself. There are flashes of pride when she watches her daughter's second performance, but this is mainly because she thinks that her daughter's success will give her a future with Ray. I would have liked to have seen some recognition from Mari that she has been a bad mother, that she has been selfish and failed to offer care and compassion to her daughter, perhaps even a sign that she is willing to change. Without this, I was left feeling slightly short-changed.

I think it's worth noting that whilst the film was released in 1998, you wouldn't necessarily know that it was set in the late 90s if it weren't for the inclusion of Chumbawamba's Tubthumping and a reference to Take That. The set designs and the fashions don't really place the story in the 90s, it could easily be the early 80s. This outdatedness fits with the grey, damp grimness of the place and reminds me of being young and finding Scarborough a bit behind the times. I remember often thinking about what I had seen on TV and what I had seen around town, in terms of fashion and technology, and finding a big disparity. In hindsight, that may just be what it is like for most young people who don't live in a city. Now that I'm older, I find myself seeing some contemporary fashions on TV and thinking, I'm glad I don't see this much in real life.

Speaking of real life, I had a vague memory from my first viewing, all those years ago, of seeing the small row of buildings that are on the bottom left as you walk towards the seafront down Eastborough. In my mind, one of these was the home of LV and Mari. Obviously I had forgotten about Hoff Records! The buildings are in the film though, the short street is West Sandgate and Mari, Ray Say and Mr Boo can be seen walking down it as they exit the pub. On my recent visit to Scarborough, I noted that what used to be a cafe is now a small pub called the Frigate. I went in there with my friend Russell. They had a small, but good selection of real ales on tap and served pies and paninis. We had blonde ales, served in pimpled pint glasses with handles, and the paninis which came with a side salad, including beetroot and parsnip crisps. I failed to note the hygiene rating, but it was certainly cleaner than the Hoff's kitchen.

West Sandgate in Scarborough. Still image from the 1998 film Little Voice.
Mr Boo, Ray Say and Mari Hoff, walking down West Sandgate after leaving The Seabirds pub. The shop or cafe on the left is now The Frigate, a pub serving pies and paninis. Still image from the film Little Voice (1998, Miramax) 34min 41sec


The fish and chip shop in the corner building on Eastborough is also seen in the film. I think the remaining notable location that I haven't yet mentioned is Mr Boo's club. The end credits give thanks to Haven Holidays, Cayton Bay and this seems to have been the location, but according to what I have read online, it has since been demolished.

Section from end credits of the 1998 film Little Voice, states the film was shot on location in Scarborough and Twickenham studios. The soundtrack is available from Capitol/Miramax records.
Section from the end credits of Little Voice (1998, Miramax)

The film boasts an excellent soundtrack and features the best (although it might be the only) use of the song Goldfinger that I have seen outside of the film it was originally composed for.

Further Reading/Viewing

Cast and crew on the set and short interview with Jane Horrocks and Mark Herman. From Screenocean/Reuters  -

Cinema Essentials (Review) -

The Guardian (Review) -,,30843,00.html

The Numbers (Box Office records) -


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