London has long provided the backdrop for iconic movies, from family-friendly films like Disney’s Mary Poppins to the wild and colourful London of the swinging sixties. Modern London is a world away from many of these older movies. While all the famous landmarks are still present and correct, modern London is a global city that’s home to millions of people from every corner of the world. This list looks at ten of the films which best capture twenty-first century London in all its gritty glory.
10. Green Street (2005)
Elijah Wood stars an American college student sucked into the distinctly British world of football hooliganism. Falling in with the ‘firm’ that supports East London’s West Ham, Wood’s character quickly comes to love unleashing his aggression in fierce battles with rival supporters. Wood’s journey from total outsider to committed hooligan is gripping and gives a better idea than any other movie of how people become addicted to the wild tribal violence of football hooliganism.
9. Four Lions (2010)
Suicide bombers are the bold target for Chris Morris’ brutal slapstick satire about a group of radicalized British Muslims. The laughs come thick and fast as the hapless terrorists get booted out of a Pakistan training camp and struggle with explosives. Much of the action takes place in the city of Sheffield, but the plot at the centre of the film unfolds on the streets of the capital, with the Four Lions attempting to bomb the London Marathon, their explosives disguised beneath costumes that include a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and the Honey Monster.
8. Bigga than Ben (2008)
Based on a controversial Russian novel filled with tips on how to defraud and rob your way to financial stability in London, this darkly comic film follows Russian immigrants Spider and Cobakka as they attempt to survive in London by any means necessary. A blistering cocktail of petty crime, hard drugs and bank fraud, Bigga than Ben provides a brutally funny guide to surviving the mean streets of England’s capital.
7. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
If you ever ride the London Underground during the morning or evening rush hours, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the emotionless hordes of suited commuters for an army of zombies. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost turn this conceit into a brilliant British comedy, in which they stare as a couple of Londoners who spend much of the early part of the film completely oblivious to the zombie apocalypse that has engulfed their city. Hilarity abounds in scenes that see Pegg and Frost argue over which items from their record collection are too precious to use as weapons, or memorably bash in zombie brains to the sound of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’.
6. Kidulthood (2006)
London-set films don’t get much further from Mary Poppins than Noel Clarke’s exhilarating drama, which follows the lives of a group of young Londoners living in grim inner-city council estates. The youths keep themselves entertained with sex, drugs, petty crime and brutal violence in a film that revels in the harsh realities of many young Londoner’s lives.
5. Football Factory (2004)
Where Green Street gives an outsider’s impression of English football hooliganism,Football Factory is one hundred percent homegrown. Danny Dyer plays a London lad loving every minute with the Chelsea Headhunters firm. Full of fist-fights, barroom brawls and tribal blood feuds between rival firms, the whole film builds towards a brutal blowout brawl between the fans of Chelsea and Millwall centred around an F.A. Cup clash. Whereas many similar films might opt to moralize or show a character grow to loathe the casual violence they embrace at the outset, Football Factoryinstead ends with a great line from Dyer: “Was it worth it? Course it f**king was!”
4. Eastern Promises (2007)
Director David Cronenberg is best known for highly original and often highly disturbing horror films like Crash, The Fly and Scanners. His take on the Russian mob’s London-based activities is predictably unpredictable. As dark as it is memorable, this crime flick pierces London’s seedy underbelly with highly-researched attention to detail. Set in a city where the richest sports team are owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abromovic, Eastern Promises makes for compelling viewing.
3. Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
When a Nigerian hotel porter living and working in London illegally finds a human heart blocking the toilet of a plush hotel suite, he finds himself drawn into the dark side of the city he’s come to call home. With a huge cast of memorable characters, including Audrey Tatou’s tragic Turkish chambermaid and Sergi Lopez’s soulless alcoholic hotel manager, this film paints a brilliant and often chilling picture of the trials and tribulations of London’s large immigrant community, where the only English characters are immigrant-busting customs officials.
2. 28 Days Later (2002)
Cillian Murphy wakes up in a deserted hospital, then heads out onto the streets and discovers that the whole city of London has been abandoned. The shots of London’s streets and landmarks without a person in sight are truly eerie. Director Danny Boyle creates an unforgettable impression of a zombie apocalypse that couldn’t be set anywhere other than London.
1. Children of Men (2006)
Even though it’s set in the year 2027, Children of Men depicts a world in which no human has given birth in 18 years, making those born in 2009 the last generation ever to call England’s capital home. One of the first films to feature dubstep, the bass-heavy soundtrack to much of modern London’s underground, the film does a stellar job of capturing the London of the early twenty-first century as a city almost frozen in time. As well as the global infertility crisis, Children of Men is set in a world where virtually every other major city on Earth has been reduced to rubble by nuclear war and natural disasters. This results in the London of the movie erecting huge internment camps for the deluge of foreign refugees, cleverly reflecting some of the scapegoating and scaremongering that has been aimed at the real London’s huge immigrant population. This brilliantly original film boasts stunning cinematography and solid performances from a cast that includes Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine. All these elements combine to create a spectacularly warped but unerringly accurate depiction of early twenty-first century London, easily cementingChildren of Men’s place at the top of this list.