Screening London

Professor Ian Christie explores key moments in the portrayal of London in cinema over the past century, and what these portrayals may mean locally and internationally.

The earliest London-made films showed the Victorian city doing everyday business before its fictional screen image became increasingly shadowy and sinister. Gothic or ‘gaslight’ visions of London have remained popular with cinema audiences, providing a fictional and often eerie counterpoint to the growth of the modern city.

Britain’s pioneer filmmaker, Robert Paul, born 150 years ago in North London, vividly portrayed the variety of life in the imperial metropolis at the end of the 19th century, conscious of its historic appeal but also emphasizing the modernity of which he was a part.    

Location shooting was a feature of ‘new wave’ film around the world in the 1960s. In Britain, it meant that British filmmakers broke out of the studio to find new subjects among the young, the fashionable and the disadvantaged, seen in their natural habitats – not only in the North and Midlands but in unfamiliar parts of London.