Having just finished the latest season of Luther, I can’t help but feel that one of its stars didn’t get the praise they deserved. In many ways, it was this star that really made the show; the perfect addition to every episode. They added to the mood in every scene. Yet they went uncredited. I’m talking, of course, about London.
While it would be a stretch to brand what is the work of a good TV location scout a character in its own right, Luther is one of a long line of shows and films that portrays the city with a personality.
Shown through the eyes of the fanatical DCI John Luther, London is an accomplice to the murderers who prowl its streets. Behind every service door and construction board is the lair of a serial killer. No one is safe. The city offers nothing in terms of protection for innocent victims; not on the buses, not on the residential streets and not even in their own bedrooms. London is a character to fear.
But like all good actors, the city is capable of playing completely different roles.
Consider the London of the Paddington films. Just as Luther’s London is foreboding, Paddington’s is a city that welcomes an immigrant bear with open arms; full of colourful streets and even more colourful characters. Paddington was even christened by the station he arrived at, how’s that for generosity?
Or how about gangster London? The city of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Eastern Promises and Layer Cake. A wild place where criminals reign. Where illegal boxing matches and dodgy deals seem to be happening upstairs at every pub with charming cockneys ready to pull a fast one on you.
So which is it? Which one is real?
There’s one we can rule out: the very white, very middle-class city seen in films such as those made by the production company Working Title - Notting Hill, Bridget Jones and Four Weddings. It’s often only the odd shot of Big Ben and Hackney Cabs in these that remind you they’re in London and not some boring dystopia populated only by Hugh Grants. This one is bleak – far too from the multi-cultural London we know and love.
Yet Richard Curtis films aside, it’s a shame the Oscars doesn’t have a category for Best Supporting Urban Area because London would win every time. The city steps up to everything it stars in, whatever the genre, and is the character it needs to be, from fun to terrifying, edgy or embracing.
It’s true that London at its on-screen best needs a bit of work – much like that of the poor cameramen tasked with making Tom Cruise or Kit Harrington look taller in films. Lazy angles such as those seen in London has Fallen hardly do the city justice. Nobody wants the tourist tour of a few central London locations punctuated by gratuitous Underground scenes.
So keep an eye on the city in the next film. See what it gets up to and hope it’s some of its best work. Because, in the right hands, London is undeniably a star. Yet in the wrong film it’s just one of those movies that every actor does, and every actor regrets.