Mona Lisa (1986)

An ungainly cockney chauffeur navigates the seedy streets of London, gradually falling for the elegant and mysterious prostitute who is his passenger.

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“The whole movie has some of the potency of cheap music that’s represented by the title song. I succumbed.”
Pauline Kael, Hooked: Film Writings 1985–1988

An odd-couple love story set in London’s criminal underworld, Mona Lisa makes a virtue of the physical disparity between the uncouth George (Bob Hoskins) and Simone (Cathy Tyson), the “tall, thin, black tart” whom he is paid to ferry to assignations.

The third feature film by novelist-turned-director Neil Jordan, it also makes room for beautifully realised supporting characters, including predatory crime boss Mortwell (Michael Caine) and waiflike teenage prostitute Cathy (Kate Hardie), whom Simone entreats George to rescue.

Cinematographer Roger Pratt, whose work encompasses both grand fantasy in Brazil (1985) and realism in High Hopes (1988), introduces elements of both to his rendering of a stylised, sickly-looking London. Hoskins’ compelling performance brought him an Oscar nomination and a Bafta.

Mona Lisa transposes to London some of the plot and aesthetic style of Taxi Driver (1976), while its settings and child-prostitution theme are echoed in London to Brighton (2006).

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