5 essential London films

Take a trip to the British capital with these under-the-radar classics exploring London life.

18 May 2020

By David Parkinson

Peeping Tom (1960)

Peeping Tom (1960)
Restoration by The Film Foundation, StudioCanal and BFI National Archive

This controversial classic from the legendary British director Michael Powell follows a shy camera technician who makes home movies of the death throes of the women he kills. Filmed in central London, it captures the sleazy side of the capital in the 1960s and caused such a scandal on first release that Powell’s career hit the skids. Later, the likes of Martin Scorsese reclaimed Peeping Tom as a masterpiece.

Passport to Pimlico (1949)

Passport to Pimlico (1949)

The capital’s Blitz scars are evident in several Ealing comedies available on Roku’s BFI Player channel, including Hue and Cry (1947) and The Ladykillers (1955). But this droll classic about an inner-city district discovering it belongs to the Duchy of Burgundy offered a slyly satirical escape from all that postwar austerity.

Pool of London (1951)

Pool of London (1951)
BFI National Archive

Director Basil Dearden specialised in ‘problem pictures’, and mid-century attitudes to race come under scrutiny in this dockland noir about the relationships between Jamaican merchant seaman Earl Cameron, his jewel-smuggling American shipmate Bonar Colleano and Susan Shaw, the variety theatre ticket seller who shows Cameron around town after he’s abused.

The Monster of Highgate Ponds (1961)

The Monster of Highgate Ponds (1961)

Brazilian maverick Alberto Cavalcanti landed at the Children’s Film Foundation for this irresistible adventure about the creature that hatches from an egg that’s brought back from a British Museum expedition to Malaysia and coveted by two unscrupulous showmen. The charming stop-motion animation was produced by pioneers John Halas and Joy Batchelor.

London (1994)

London (1994)

Enticingly narrated by Oscar winner Paul Scofield, Patrick Keiller’s cine-essay presents an idiosyncratic and peripatetic tour of the ever-changing metropolis that has inspired painters and poets and infuriated residents and visitors. Witty, wise and well worth watching alongside its companion pieces, Robinson in Space (1997) and Robinson in Ruins (2010).

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