London in Film

by tobelikeafeatherby

hugh grant

Hugh Grant walking along Southbank in Four Weddings

The BFI London Film Festival starting this week got me thinking about memorable London movie moments. I wish more movies were filmed over here; I love spotting London streets or parks on screen. It can be very beautiful when a director manages to capture the city as I recognise it, and the people who live here, at their best. London done brilliantly in a film reminds me what a great city it is. With so many films set in the US it can feel weirdly imaginative seeing movies set over here. Huge blockbuster productions suit the US more, although of course James Bond looks fabulous in London. Smaller films work in London where real locations are used. London film-sets never look right: the Boston looking version in Hook or the bizarre candy coloured Hyde Park in The Wolf of Wall Street.

It seems two distinct London’s have been portrayed on screen: romantic or slightly bleak but hopeful nonetheless. I’m sure this is more a reflection of Londoners than it is the filmmakers.mary-poppins-1964-004-mary-flying-to-banks-house

‘London’ Mary Poppins

When younger I remember watching Mary Poppins and seeing Mr Banks going to work in the mythical ‘City’. When going into London I expected to find masses of pigeons being fed and a row of houses just like the Bank’s. The reality of London can be far less glamourous but I enjoy the Disney-fied version and I think it is a perception of the city that has continued in movies.


Curtis’ Notting Hill

Richard Curtis is often attacked for depicting an unrealistic London, focusing on a privileged cross section, succumbing to America’s ideal of the English. Of course very few people live lives similar to his characters but when I watch his films I can’t help love them for their romanticism of London. No doubt Curtis’ films are his ode to the city. His London may be west-orientated and sugar coated but it does offer the best London has to give. There are such memorable scenes: Hugh Grant waiting for his brother on the spiral steps at The Hayward in Four Weddings or the perfect house where he goes to have dinner in Notting Hill and the subsequent residential garden he and Julia Roberts break into. Bridget Jones walking across Tower Bridge with a huge grin on her face or Rachel McAdams’ delectable flat on the Golborn Road in About Time.


Mother and daughter crossing Abbey Road in the Parent Trap

American directors Nancy Meyers and Woody Allen’s idealised view of London almost makes Curtis’ seem gritty. I couldn’t wait to see Woody’s Match Point and his portrayal of London. The sheer ridiculousness of it made me re-think my idea that all people in NY live as though in a Woody Allen film. I love his films though for creating the illusion that people can live so wonderfully. Chauffeur driven cars between Belgravia, The Royal Opera House and Queen’s Club for a game of afternoon tennis is Woody’s London. I enjoyed spotting his characters drinking at Julies in Holland Park. Similarly who doesn’t remember being envious at the little girl in the Parent Trap being asked by her if she wanted to spend the afternoon ‘getting lost in Harrods’.


Postman’s Park in Closer

In An Education the audience is seduced by London as Jenny is. Chic well-dressed people epitomized by Rosamund Pike’s character and smart nightclubs. White stucco apartments overlooking Regents Park. Lone Scherfig has a knack for making any city look cinematic and enticing. The truth behind what Jenny’s friends actually do however exposes a dark, seedy London. Suddenly bland but honest suburbia becomes more appealing. The same tensions are explored in Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the play Closer. Fashionable but hollow houses and attractive but deceptive London locations including Postman’s Park, which was previously a burial ground, lay bare the superficial and dishonest characters.


domestic bliss interrupted in Leigh’s Another Year

Mike Leigh’s films have become synonymous with a more realistic and socially problematic London. He is obviously passionate about the inhabitants of London and tries to portray their lives on film. Leigh describes his films as bleak but ultimately hopeful. Another Year is a challenging film to watch as it chronicles a desperate woman’s attachment to a happy couple who plot about a lovely south london terrace house and their nearby allotment. The film explores the harsh reality of loneliness however there is a powerful sense of humanity as the couple are blissfully happy and help those who aren’t. In Career Girls there is an awareness of lives disappointments as one friend goes to visit the other in a very 90s London. The obvious fondness of the friends for each other is touching and a reminder that all is ok if you have good friends around you. Anthony Mingella’s Truly Madly Deeply is similarly tragic as Juliet Stevenson looses her partner. Yet she is able to find happiness through her beloved flat and the wacky Londoners around her. Soon her flat becomes alive and cozy and she is on a date on London’s Southbank.


North London couple in Minghella’s Truly Madly Deeply

I’m sure you have favourite London movie moments. I think we should see Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland. It is about three sisters trying to pave their way in London. Also you must see Jack and Sarah because your siblings have the same names.

Love, Sarah.