Jonas Grimas: writer & director

6 Jan

Everyone has a story. Filmmaker and BAFTA winner Jonas Grimas grew up in Sweden but it is Islington where his career took off.   Interview by Nicola Baird.

Jonas Grimas: to see clips of his films here, Photo by Nics.

Jonas Grimas: enjoy clips of his films at Photo by Nicola Mathers.

February 1989: It was early in the morning and I was living off Essex Road. I nipped out to get milk and a newspaper. As I turned a corner I walked into a bobby. He said ‘sorry’, and was sweating profusely. I thought it was odd. Then I saw someone sitting in a car reading a newspaper, except there was a hole cut in it where his eyes were. At the next block there were five to 10 photographers with long lenses poised behind the wall. I thought maybe I needed to go back to bed! But at the shop I heard that a fatwa had been issued on Salman Rushdie*, and learnt that Rushdie lived in my street.”

That was writer director Jonas Grimas’ early introduction to life in eventful Islington – the sort of mystery incident he is used to including in the TV series he’s worked on such as Heartbeat and Wallander.


Despite having rented in Pimlico and off Brick Lane, Jonas Grimas was drawn back to Islington. “It felt natural coming back. I was in Essex Road for 10 years and have now been in Sotheby Road for 11 years.” But if there’s one place he really loves in the borough is Highbury Fields.

Places Jonas Grimas likes in Islington
“Islington is a really good place to be. Everyone says their home town has got everything. But Islington has got everything and double – just too many estate agents!”

  • I like everything about Highbury Fields. I spent endless days there when my daughter Ellen was little. That paddling pool saved the life of 100s of kids on a hot summer’s day. The playground was always full – except the one overcast day when a film crew came.
  • I love Stingray at Highbury Barn, it’s always full and friendly. I used it as my living room for years when I was away filming during the week. The pasta and pizza is second to none. Their pizza bruschetta was divine, but they’ve stopped doing it! 36 Highbury Park, N5, tel: 020 7354 9309
  • I miss Borders (at the N1 Centre, Angel) desperately.
  • Doors to the King's Head Theatre are just past the bar.

    Doors to the King’s Head Theatre are just past the bar.

    I never go to pubs but the shows at the King’s Head Theatre and the Pleasance Theatre are very nice.

  • I’ve just made a commercial for an app called Go Be! – a way of discovering secret places in London and included Paul A Young’s shop in Camden Passage. Chocolate made with the Valrhona bean that Paul A Young uses is the one that Columbus first discovered in the West Indies. It melts in your mouth and the flavour stays for 20 minutes… Paul A Young, 33 Camden Passage, N1 /
  • I work freelance and try to leave the house every day. I often have meetings at the Tate Modern. It’s so easy to get to anywhere from Islington

It’s all about film
Jonas is from Sweden and grew up in leafy Uppsala (the ecclesiastical centre of Sweden boasting the oldest national university). He began studying film in Sweden and as he was already a fan of London, having visited it nearly 10 times, he organised an exchange student place at the Royal College of Art – which led him to meet a British woman who’d become his wife. At first the pair planned to live in Sweden, but sorting out visas in 1988 they decided to base themselves in London instead, settling in Grantbridge Street N1, off St Peter Street because Jonas’ now ex-wife’s aunt had a flat she could rent them.

Jonas Grimas loves to live in Islington, but enjoys relaxing in his native Sweden.

Jonas Grimas loves to live in Islington, but enjoys relaxing in his native Sweden. Photo: Jonas Grimas.

Jonas has been in London for 26 years now – 22 of this in Islington – and clocked up many film credits. Although he won Sweden’s Cultural Personality of the Year in 2011, won a BAFTA for his short film The Artist and worked with Danny Boyle and Robert Carlisle on Hamish Macbeth he is unable to pick a favourite project – possibly because he’s always working on several ideas.

Right now this includes mentoring at Metropolitan Film School, Ealing Studios, running regular seminars at the London Film School, as well as directing a showcase course for LFS’s MA Screenwriters. He’s also just finished a 90 page, black comedy feature film script, It Could have been Worse; shot a three-parter with a Swedish TV company and written a book on the creative interplay between producing and directing.

It’s a formidable list but having seen Jonas work on a short film (20 mins) about families experience of school at Highbury Fields Secondary School (where both our daughters went and many years ago the author Andrea Levy), Our School Days, I’m not at all surprised by how busy he can be. Here’s the link to that film

View from the Swedish cabin. Photo: Jonas Grimas.

View from his Swedish cabin. Photo: Jonas Grimas.

Sweden and the UK
“As a child I had 100 per cent freedom playing out. When we’d done our homework we went outside and played in the street. In the holidays we’d go to a summer house. My mother’s family had one on a hill looking down towards the lake and an unfinished castle. We could swim at the beach, or in winter we could skate or drive across the ice to the castle to see the vintage cars and have very good hot chocolate,” says Jonas.

"That place is who I am." Photo:  Jonas Grimas

Jonas Grimas may enjoy working in Islington but he re-energises in Sweden – “That place is who I am.” Photo: Jonas Grimas

“My daughter Ellen, now 23, grew up in London so it was very different. My father’s parents built another summer house from a baker’s cabin in 1946: that place is who I am. My grandfather Alfred Grimas was a school teacher, cantor (church organist), had a choir and helped create Sweden’s public library system but he also built the big room at the summer house. When he and then my grandmother died (she was 101 years old) the house was sold, and me and my sisters bought it, so Ellen has visited many times. It’s wonderful. You can do nothing there,” he says with characteristic wit before pointing out that he needs to get across town for a meeting…

Jonas is clearly a multi-talented filmmaker who works himself hard while also sharing those skills with the next generation of filmmakers.

In many ways independent filmmakers like Jonas Grimas – and other creative types, writers, artists, etc – have been a quintessential part of Islington. None of us know them all, but this makes us all the more proud of those we do know – as if their bit of fame and talent rubs off on us. So here’s a wish for all islingtonfacesblog readers – may 2015 be happy, healthy and the year that your projects work out just as you hope. Happy New Year!

Salman Rushdie’s satirical novel, The Satanic Verses, was published in 1988. The fatwa came out early in 1989. More at

Over to you

If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via at Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola


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