We might be staying in more than anticipated this season, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other ways you can still explore our city’s streets and backstory. From Notting Hill in the Swinging Sixties, to Thatcherite South London and current day Hackney, these award-winning and acclaimed London movies will have you falling in love with the capital all over again.
This cult thriller was director Michelangel Antonioni’s first entirely English-language film, so it’s fitting that the storyline takes place in London. Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Birkin, the plot follows a day in the life of fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) – a character thought to be inspired by David Bailey – as he leaves his hip W11 studio to explore the capital in all its Sixties hedonistic glory. But when Thomas inadvertently captures a murder on his camera, has he landed himself in hot water?
James Fox plays a gangster forced into hiding after killing a friend and who finds shelter in the Notting Hill home of a washed-up rock star, aka Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger. Together the two of them end up on a dark, psychological, drug-fuelled journey, where they slowly start to morph into each other. Though the film was met with much controversy on its release, it has since been lauded for capturing the zeitgeist of the capital at the time and described by the BFI as a “kaleidoscopic odyssey into the dark heart of swinging London”.
Today, Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren might not seem the most likely candidates to star in a British gangster flick, but this film about political and police corruption will prove modern audiences wrong. Finsbury Park local Hoskins spends most of his time cruising around the East End in this movie – until his mob boss’s car gets blown up outside St George-in-the-East church in Shadwell. There’s also Barrow Boys and Cockney Rhyming Slang galore, providing a fascinating look at bygone London.
This classic British comedy sees the residents of Pimlico discover that, due to an ancient treaty, they aren’t actually part of the UK. Cue the introduction of many hilarious new rules, after chaos unfolds in the capital’s streets, as they escape the laws of bureaucratic Britain. While Passport to Pimlico is eerily pertinent now, in the wake of Brexit, it’s also a glimpse of post-war London and its landmarks including Trafalgar Square Westminster and London Zoo, though much was filmed on a purpose-built set on a bombsite on Lambeth Road.
An uplifting coming-of-age story set in today’s capital. 15-year-old Hackney schoolgirl Shola (a.k.a Rocks) comes home one day to find that her mentally ill mother has abandoned her and her younger brother, Emmanuel. But despite the bleak narrative, this film is a joyful one about navigating the challenges of life in contemporary London. In fact, Rock’s up-and-coming screenwriter Theresa Ikoko herself describes the film as “a love letter to London.”
This black comedy, about a gang of hardened criminals who are outwitted by sweet old Mrs Wilberforce, was filmed in and around Kings Cross. While most of the original locations have either been revamped or gentrified, the old railway tunnels that star are still much in evidence today. Either way, the Oscar-nominated screenplay – featuring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers – has its own timeless appeal, and was remade in 2004 for precisely that reason.
South London in the mid-80s serves as the backdrop for this drama written by the award-winning Hanif Kureishi. In it, a British-Pakistani man named Omar takes over a local laundrette with his best friend Johnny, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in his first major film role. But Omar and Johnny are not only partners in business but in life, too, and are secretly in a relationship. As well as providing some retro shots of a now unrecognisable South London, it also gives an interesting insight into race relations and homosexuality in Thatcherite London.
Racial tension and police brutality form the basis of this Brixton-based film, which was released just a year before the Brixton riots took place. At the time, large swathes of the area’s African-Caribbean community were facing high unemployment – a situation depicted by Aswad frontman Brinsley Forde who plays Blue, a black British teenager who is being held back by the system. A great insight into the history of Brixton, but also a relevant look at the ingrained prejudices that still pervade our establishments today.
This feel-good Richard Curtis film takes place primarily in West London, where Hollywood actress Julia Roberts falls for local travel book store owner Hugh Grant. Screening like an ode to the Notting Hill area (Curtis has since said that the film’s success sped up the area’s gentrification), we see Grant repeatedly pacing past the local off-beat boutiques and through Portobello Market to his now-famous blue front door. But there’s also plenty to see beyond W11, as our hero races to the West End to declare his true feelings for his unlikely love interest.
You could say that 28 Days Later holds a mirror up to the London we’ve recently experienced, thanks to Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic narrative following the outbreak of a highly contagious virus. Of course, there are no zombies wandering around the capital right now, but the deserted cityscape will feel familiar. Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris and Christopher Eccleston all appear, but the real star of the show remains London, in all her deserted glory.
This 90s rom-com sees Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) take the tube home after getting fired from her job in PR to find her boyfriend (John Lynch) in bed with another woman. But this is only one of the timelines the film puts forward. In the second, Helen misses the tube – i.e. the title’s sliding doors – meaning that she’s too late to witness her partner’s betrayal. The rest of the film plays out the two alternative scenarios, with the capital’s iconic underground providing the perfect backdrop for a story of near misses.
In this neo-noir thriller, Dirk Bogarde plays a married barrister whose secret romance with a young man leads him to be blackmailed. Shot six years before the law decriminalised homosexuality in the UK, the film features plenty of well-loved London locations including Covent Garden’s The Salisbury pub, a well-known gay-friendly watering hole from Oscar Wilde’s time until the mid-1980s. In fact, Victim was the first English language film to use the word “homosexual” on screen, causing it to be initially banned in the US.