Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa is one of the most powerful British films of the 1980s. Capturing the darker side of the capital, this 1986 release diagnosed London’s accelerating divide between rich and poor. Featuring one of Bob Hoskins’ finest performances as George, the film follows him on his journey to all ends of the city as his work sees him moving through its seedy underbelly.
Recently out from prison, George finds no warm welcome at home. Owed favours by Mortwell (Michael Caine), he becomes a driver for high-class sex worker Simone (Cathy Tyson), taxiing her between rich penthouses and lavish hotels. Although initially at odds, the pair soon form a bond. With trust between them growing, Simone asks George to help her look for a missing woman. Telling his troubles to his friend Thomas (Robbie Coltrane), it’s clear that there’s more to George’s search than meets the eye. But how far will he go before he realises the truth about Simone?
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Jordan’s film features an extensive array of London locations, as well as an excursion to Brighton. It’s a perfect 1980s period piece: a depiction of poverty living alongside affluent excess. Here are six locations from the film as they are today.
First thing after the film’s credits, Jordan provides an establishing shot of George’s old home. After getting out of jail, he’s gone to visit his daughter (Zoë Nathenson). The shot is of Dulwich and shows the flower shop where he buys a bouquet to sweeten his return. The shop was at the corner of Goodrich Road and Landells Road. Today, the shop is just another house.
George receives a less than warm welcome in his old neighbourhood, his wife (Pauline Melville) leaving him on the doorstep to wreak havoc. The house in question is on Darrell Road, a few minutes or so from the flower shop. The house today is more upmarket, but little has otherwise changed.
Before George starts a riot with the locals, his friend Thomas intervenes and drags him away. The shot is taken from the middle of Darrell Road, which feels more cramped today due to the speed bumps and bigger cars.
Thomas has an enviable hideaway on the river, an old remnant of the industrial Thames. It’s a perfect place to keep his array of crime novels and plastic spaghetti. The building was part of Lombard Wharf, a location also used in Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil (1968). Today the whole area has been redeveloped. The industrial buildings have gone and the tower of Totteridge House seen in the background is entirely blocked from view.
One of the last shots we see in the film is from the window of Thomas’s building. The view from the window gives a better indication as to where it was, with Battersea Railway Bridge seen running over the Thames. The building has, of course, been entirely demolished, but the view from its window remains.
On his first job poncing for Simone, George messes it up. His dated suit sticks out like a sore thumb in the posh hotel where she’s working. We first see George arrive in the hotel’s car park and saunter up to the doorman. The hotel was the Caxton Hotel, now the St Ermin’s Hotel. The car park today is a luxurious garden leading up to the hotel’s entrance.
Leaving the hotel before they get rumbled, George and Simone quickly walk back to the car. Jordan gives us a better view of the hotel’s entrance, which, besides the absence of cars, is little changed.
Tasked with finding Simone’s friend, George plumbs the depths of Soho. He starts his search in Chinatown, walking along Gerrard Street. The area is a little more tourist heavy today, but is mostly the same as it was.
The first establishment that George looks in is Playboy’s on Wardour Street. Today, the strip bar is now a Chinese restaurant and the neighbouring window is a tea bar.
George tries is his luck at another shop later in the film, where he finds one of Simone’s old sex tapes. The shop in question was in Tisbury Court. Today it’s boarded up and part of the Village club’s premises.
Carrying on his search, George leaves, half in shock at the tape he has found. Jordan shoots Tisbury Court looking towards Rupert Street.
The dramatic final segment of the film takes place in Brighton. Jordan chooses a number of the town’s most typical locations to stage his drama. On arriving in the town, the characters settle in a room at the Royal Albion Hotel. The hotel still stands today and is little changed except being a tad more run down.
Leaving the rescued ‘friend’ in the hotel to recuperate, George takes Simone for a walk along the Palace Pier where the truth of the whole situation finally comes out. We see a shot of the pair looking out towards the now derelict neighbouring pier and the town’s blocks of flats. The pier has changed somewhat, and the exact spot is now occupied by the outdoor seating area of the Palm Court restaurant, which has used the space for a plant feature. A better likeness is found just before the restaurant, giving more of an indication as to what the location looked like.
Feeling used, George confronts Simone about his feelings. The shot below is taken on the other side of the pier, towards its far end. The ending of the pier has changed dramatically since filming, but the main thoroughfare of its walkway is still the same.
In the final shot of the film, after much violence and turmoil, George walks out and towards the sea. First, we see a shot of Hove, near the Hove plinth and its vast seaside promenade, looking back towards the two piers. The location is very much unchanged.
George walks away from the violence of the hotel. The location is very specific in that the concrete wall in shot shows exactly where it was filmed. Today the promenade is as beautiful as it was, though it’s worth noting that the hotel of the film is a good mile away and George is in fact walking back towards it rather than away from it. George always has all the bad luck.