On BFI Player
Reviews etc: Robert Yates interview, Guardian, 31 May 1994; Geoff Andrew, Time Out, 1 June 1994; Sheila Johnston, The Independent, 3 June 1994; Robert Yates, Sight and Sound, June 1994, 54-55; Iain Sinclair, ‘Necropolis of Fretful Ghosts’, Sight and Sound, June 1994, 12-15; Stephen Holden, ‘A Tour of London, Seen Through a Glass Darkly’, New York Times, 28 September 1994; Time Out ‘100 Best British Films’ no. 39.
London is a film about a city in decline, and about the roots of that decline in its culture and politics, in the form of a fictional journal of the year 1992. This year saw the surprise re-election of the hapless John Major as Prime Minister; the renewal of the IRA’s bombing campaign in mainland Britain; the ‘fall of the House of Windsor’; the bungled devaluation of the pound and its sudden withdrawal from the European Monetary System, and various other scandals, bankruptcies etc.
The journal is that of the film’s unseen, unnamed narrator – whose words are spoken by Paul Scofield – the companion, chronicler and ex-lover of the reclusive and also unseen Robinson, who has summoned him from a long and unspecified exile to assist in the study of the ‘problem’ of London that is his life’s work:
‘Robinson lives in the way that people were said to live in the cities of the Soviet Union. His income is small, but he saves most of it. He isn’t poor because he lacks money, but because everything he wants is unavailable . . .
‘He lives on what he earns in one or two days a week teaching in the School of Fine Art and Architecture of the University of Barking. Like many auto-didacts, he is prone to misconceptions about his subjects, but as there is no-one at the University to oversee him, his position is relatively secure.
‘Apart from his academic work, Robinson hardly ever leaves the flat except to go to the supermarket. When he used to visit friends abroad, his social life was transformed – he became an enthusiastic flaneur, astonishing his hosts with his stamina and generosity, but for several years he has not left the country, as he wrestles with what he calls the ‘problem’ of London.’
Robinson is attempting to transform himself into a Surrealist flâneur, in the manner of Louis Aragon and Le Paysan de Paris, and the ‘problem’ of London is that, on top of all its other shortcomings, it will not permit this. It has no cafe society, no public life; it is a city of privacy, of secrets, of absence. He refuses to accept this:
‘He has asked me to accompany him on a series of journeys, each one prompted by an aspect of his project. . . .’
From the 1994 Berlin Film Festival programme
The film has been adapted as a book published by FUEL in September 2020
Camera, script Patrick Keiller, narrator Paul Scofield, assistant director Julie Norris, camera assistants Claire Barwell, David Finch, Hrvoje Horvatić, Lyndon Jones, Jill McGreal, production manager Jacqui Timberlake, editor, sound design Larry Sider, sound editor Kate O’Neill, assistant sound editor Ralph O’Neill, re-recording mixer Hugh Strain, titles Frameline.
A Koninck production for the British Film Institute in association with Channel Four Television © British Film Institute 1994, executive producer Ben Gibson, executive in charge of production Angela Topping, producer Keith Griffiths.