The hidden star of Luther, Paddington, and so much more: London

London! Image: Wikipedia Commons.

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.

 
 
 
 

The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.