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London in film
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London in film

The city of London has been the backdrop for many films.

Table of contents
1 Literary London
2 Comic London
3 Historical London
4 Romantic London
5 Scary London
6 Dodgy London
7 Kids London
8 Musical London

Literary London

Many of the novels and plays set in London have been made into films. For example, the Internet Movie Database has 183 entries for films and television productions which credit Charles Dickens as a writer, stretching back to the 1897 silent film Death of Nancy Sykes. Of these, the most notable are perhaps the two directed by David Lean, Oliver Twist (1948) and Great Expectations (1946). Also worthy of mention is Scrooge (1951) with Alastair Sim in the title role.

Many films have been made of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. Basil Rathbone is the actor most closely associated with the role of Holmes.

Although William Shakespeare spent much of his professional career in London, few of his plays are actually set in the city. One Shakespeare film which does make good use of a London backdrop is Richard III (1995), starring Ian McKellen, which is set in a fictional 1930s fascist version of England, and makes imaginative use of London locations such as St Cuthbert's church, St Pancras chambers (the old Midland Grand Hotel), the University of London's Senate House, and the two Gilbert Scott power stations - Bankside serving for the Tower and the decrepit Battersea Power Station as the setting for the final battle scenes.

Shakespeare in Love (1998), a romantic comedy about the life of Shakespeare, is set in Elizabethan London.

Comic London

Ealing Comedies

Historical London

Romantic London

Richard Curtis

The television and film writer Richard Curtis has created his own subgenre by writing three of the most successful British films of recent years, all romantic comedies and all at least partly set in London - Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999) and Love Actually (2003). The films follow the awkward love lives of largely upper-middle class characters (always including one played by Hugh Grant) in a London which is sunny, glamorous, clean and full of people who smile at each other. Many Londoners find this portrayal hard to connect to the reality, and Curtis has been criticised for pandering to the American market by playing to the stereotype of the English as posh, socially awkward eccentrics.

Scary London

Perhaps the best horror film set in London is the John Landis hit An American Werewolf in London (1981), one of the first horror films to combine deadpan humour with genuine scariness. The film contains a famous scene shot in Tottenham Court Road tube station.

Much of the action in the Bram Stoker novel Dracula takes place in London, but most film adaptations set it elsewhere. The notable exception is Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Two recent zombie films were set in London. 28 Days Later (2002), notable for the scenes of deserted London streets, tells the story of an outbreak of a genetically modified virus which causes people to behave like zombies. In Shaun of the Dead (2004), a romantic comedy set during a zombie attack (or romzomcom) no explanation is ever given for the zombies' appearance.

The John Wyndham novel The Day of the Triffids was made into a film in 1962 which features scenes in London.

Dodgy London


The most famous killer in London's history, Jack the Ripper, has been the subject of many films, few of them of any lasting reputation. An interesting trivia note: one Ripper film, From Hell (2001), starring Johnny Depp, used Prague to stand in for Whitechapel, where the 19th century terraces have largely been replaced by concrete blocks.



Kids London

Musical London

"Hey kids, let's put on a show!" The immortal (or at least lastingly sprightly) Cliff Richard was, briefly, a genuine movie star with three successful musical comedies in the early 1960s. The first of these, The Young Ones (1961), was set in London. Cliff, The Shadows, and his other chums need money to save their youth club, so they set up a pirate radio station to generate publicity and put on a show. They sing! They dance! They wear brightly-coloured tapered slacks! Robert Morley does martial arts! Cliff's second hit, Summer Holiday (1963) also deserves a mention, because although most of the action takes place driving across Europe, it has a starring role for a red London Routemaster bus.

Mary Poppins (1964) is memorable for some superb songs, (A Spoonful of Sugar, Chim-Chim-Cheree, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), technical excellence (notably the scene combining live action and animation) and one of the worst accents in the history of cinema. Dick Van Dyke's mangling of a cockney accent is painful to hear.

Also in 1964, Audrey Hepburn starred in My Fair Lady, the film of the musical of the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion. George Cukor's decision to award the role of Eliza Dolittle to Hepburn was perceived by many as a snub to Julie Andrews, who had played the part to great acclaim on Broadway. In the event, Andrews won an Oscar for Mary Poppins while Hepburn was not nominated. This is another film with some great songs, including Wouldn't it be Loverly, I Could have Danced all Night and Get Me to the Church on Time. Marni Nixon's voice was used in place of Audrey Hepburn's for the songs.

In Half a Sixpence (1967), professional cheery cockney Tommy Steele plays Arthur Kipps, a cockney who unexpectedly comes into some money.

Oliver (1968), the musical based on Oliver Twist, includes the songs Food, Glorious Food, Consider Yourself and You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two.

Quadrophenia (1979) draws its soundtrack from the album of the same name, a rock opera by The Who. It tells the story of Jimmy, a disaffected teenager, taking his scooter to Brighton for the August bank holiday with a group of Mods, and taking part in on of the notorious 'battles' between Mods and Rockers.

Punk, one of London's notable contributions to pop music, is the subject of Sid and Nancy (1986), a biopic of Sid Vicious, bassist with the Sex Pistols. Gary Oldman stars as Vicious.

SpiceWorld (1997) is a Spice Girls vehicle rushed out to cash in on their success. It failed to gain critical acclaim.