London has had a long and illustrious history on the big screen, and these are the ones that make the city come alive, the top 10 best films set in London.
10. Notting Hill (1999)
Of all the painfully cheesy Richard Curtis romantic comedies of the 1990s and 2000s, Notting Hill is arguably the best, and easily the least infuriating, featuring a much more interesting Cinderella love story than others of the genre, as well as impressive performances from Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and a good sense of humour.
But it’s also a film that shows off an iconic area of London in fantastic fashion. Admittedly, the film isn’t a stunner, but it uses its setting, the area of Notting Hill in the West End, to give a bit of class to its story. The impossible love between a Hollywood star and a lowly bookshop owner may seem ridiculous enough, but the overwhelming atmosphere of the film is one of more reserved and intelligent drama, fitting in perfectly with the London mentality.
What’s more, this is such a famous depiction of London that tourists from all over the world used to travel to Notting Hill to take pictures of the iconic blue door. (Although they’ve got rid of it now…)
9. Oliver! (1968)
1968’s Best Picture-winning family musical Oliver! is an absolute delight, full of beloved songs, wonderful characters, and a fascinating depiction of lower-class Victorian London.
From the lovely ‘I’d Do Anything’ to the brilliant ‘You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two’, there are so many fantastic musical numbers to sing along to here, whilst Mark Lester gives an adorable performance as Oliver Twist, making this a wonderfully enjoyable film to watch.
And although it’s set in the gritty, deprived areas of London workhouses in Victorian times, there’s an unmistakable magic to the surroundings, always seeming to promise Oliver Twist a better life despite being dragged into a group of child pickpockets.
8. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Easily the most highly-acclaimed film of the famous Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun Of The Dead is the pinnacle of modern British comedy, thanks to its simply hilarious sense of humour, unique plot and intelligent characterisation.
Set in a North London suburb somewhere near Muswell Hill, it follows a group of friends who find themselves as the last hope during a zombie apocalypse. The film is entirely satirical of the horror genre, but succeeds in making an exciting and unpredictable story as well as a brilliantly hilarious one.
Yes, this could have been set pretty much anywhere in Britain and it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference, but there’s something about that fantastic safehouse, the Winchester Tavern, that helps to make this stand out as a great London film.
7. Mary Poppins (1964)
Mary Poppins may be an American film, being produced by Disney, and featuring that stunningly disguised accent of Dick Van Dyke in his role as a Cockney chimney sweep, but it’s still an absolute icon of London on the big screen.
Julie Andrews’ deserved Oscar-winning role as a magical nanny is wonderful, and it’s another film that’s full of brilliant musical numbers, including ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ and ‘A Spoonful Of Sugar’ among others.
And although it’s a little slow-paced and features a bizarre central portion set in an animated world with talking animals, you’d easily be mistaken for thinking this a purely British-based production, because it manages to fit in so well in its setting and generally make a convincing presentation of London (even though it was all filmed in a studio in California).
6. Bedazzled (1967)
If there’s ever a time you want to get an image of the London of the swinging sixties, Bedazzled is your film. No, not the stupid remake with Brendan Fraser and Liz Hurley, the original one with the brilliant Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
The film’s about a man down on his luck who is offered seven life-changing wishes by the Devil in disguise as a guy named George Spiggott, and it’s a hugely funny comedy full of laugh-out-loud gags and classically British self-deprecating humour (which the American one really failed to do), and two brilliant central performances.
But Stanley Donen’s direction is the thing that really gives this film its character. He uses his trademark vibrant colours all over in the background in various places all over London and the South of England to give the movie a fantastic swagger that you can only ever get from the 1960s, and it’s so much fun.
5. The Long Good Friday (1980)
Now we move into a much grittier presentation of London in one of the first modern British gangster films: The Long Good Friday.
Featuring an incredible central performance by Bob Hoskins as a gangster attempting to use legitimate methods to turn the Docklands into a stylish marina for the rich and famous, the film travels back and forth across the city as the gangsters become further involved in an intricate web of lies, deception and terrorism, and turns it into a terrifying criminal war zone full of thrilling danger.
The film is also famed as an extremely black comedy, due to the exaggerated nature of the violence and criminal activities, so it’s not all doom and gloom, it’s just a really good film!
4. Paddington (2014)
Perhaps the best thing to come of the post-Sherlock/Downton Abbey/Royal Wedding American Anglophilia is 2014’s family comedy Paddington.
Based on the beloved books by Michael Bond, about a marmalade-loving Peruvian bear who turns up in Paddington station with a blue coat, a red hat and a suitcase, the film is a wonderful family affair, full of side-splitting comedy for all, a pleasant performance by Ben Whishaw, incredible CGI, and one of the most positive and still convincing on screen presentations of the City of London.
The film takes you on a tour of all of the major landmarks, as well as gives London a bit of a quirky, fairytale town-ish quality that foreign Harry Potter fans actually believe is true, but there’s still enough of a realistic and darker tone to this that prevents it from becoming an overtly cheesy tourist advert to go with the wonderful comedy, making for a thoroughly enjoyable film from start to finish.
3. Attack The Block (2011)
2011’s Attack The Block is possibly one of the most ridiculous films ever made, but it’s actually really, really good.
Starring John Boyega, of Star Wars fame, the film follows a group of friends and a woman who all live in the same block of flats on a council estate in South London who have to bring down a terrifying alien menace on Guy Fawkes Night.
On the one hand, it’s a ridiculous comedy, matching a London housing estate up with an intergalactic crisis, but that makes for some brilliant comedy and more hilariously ironic humour. But on the other hand, it’s a genuinely terrifying and massively exciting horror film. The plot is totally unpredictable, it’s really violent and gory, and the aliens are some of the most disturbing and scary-looking you’ve ever seen on film, but it all comes together to make one of the most unexpectedly brilliant films of the 21st Century.
2. V For Vendetta (2005)
The film is set in a dystopian Britain in the near future, where a totalitarian fascist party has taken control and imposed a police state, causing unrest amongst the population starting with charismatic revolutionary V. On the whole, it’s both a stylish action film as well as a deep and intelligent look at political oppression and revolution, and it is simply one of the most exciting movie-watching experiences you can ever have.
Largely based in London, the film creates a hugely convincing representation of this future dystopian capital with its brilliant production design, and uses the city brilliantly to create a somewhat different-feeling sci-fi thriller to the generic stuff you’re used to from the big Hollywood franchises.
1. Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Guy Ritchie’s feature film debut was the stunning crime-comedy Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels in 1998, and it’s a film that’s gone down in history as an icon of the British crime genre, and a brilliant presentation of modern London.
The story follows four interweaving stories kicked off by one man’s failure to pay off a mob boss after losing a card game, and it’s an explosive tale that’s full of extreme violence, thrilling drama, expletive-laden dialogue and hilariously dark comedy that takes place all over the capital.
Much like The Long Good Friday, which influenced this film, the mania of the criminals’ situation here seems to turn London into a war zone, but it does it on a much smaller scale this time, looking at individuals’ lives and how they’re affected by crime and gang warfare in the city, which is hugely interesting.
However, the main reason you’ve got to watch this is because it’s a pioneer of the contemporary British crime film, with stunning performances across the board and a thrillingly fast-paced plot that’s just so much fun to follow.