Patrick Keiller's LONDON is a documentary portrait of a formerly grand city in decline. More an academic essay than a travelogue, LONDON will have greatest appeal to those with an interest in English history, architecture, and urban development.
London is seen through the eyes of a fictional narrator (Paul Scofield), who returns to his beloved city after an absence of seven years to assist Robinson, his friend and former lover, with an unspecified project. Together, they undertake three journeys on foot as research. The first takes them
from Strawberry Hill through Twickenham (where Horace Walpole wrote the Gothic story "The Castle of Otranto") to Robinson's flat in Vauxhall. Along the way, they discuss English Gothic fiction and its connection to French symbolism and surrealism. On this trip, the Thames is identified as the
principal public space in London. The second journey begins at the house of Stockwell, reluctant lover of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, and proceeds to the site of the school in Stoke Newington where Edgar Allan Poe studied. The route follows two Roman roads and crosses London Bridge, the focus
of London's outward growth after its foundation by the Romans. The third tour--through the outer suburbs--follows the course of the River Brent from Brent Cross to Brentford. The companions also loiter near the airport and take two shorter jaunts from the West End to The City, retracing in reverse
the route by which London's center was displaced westward.
As Robinson and the narrator undertake their mission, they are distracted from their research into London's literary and artistic past by events of the present day. The film's shooting coincided with several important news stories, which are integrated into the narrative: John Major returns as
Prime Minister in a Tory electoral victory; the IRA renews its bombing campaign, striking the city's financial center; rivalries within the EEC bring on a European monetary crisis; scandals in the royal family continue.
Keiller's images of London are beautifully framed and finely detailed, reflecting his background as an architect. Visually, LONDON is a meandering, suitably complex portrait of a city that comprehends both Buckingham Palace and a huge inflatable Ronald McDonald. The sometimes arch narration,
however, feels overly contrived and even pretentious. Fellow British directors Peter Greenaway and the late Derek Jarman have explored Britain's decline and its relationship to architecture with less structure and more design.
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: Patrick Keiller's LONDON is a documentary portrait of a formerly grand city in decline. More an academic essay than a travelogue, LONDON will have greatest appeal to those with an interest in English history, architecture, and urban development. London… (more)