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London Story, The (1986)

British Film Institute

Main image of London Story, The (1986)
DirectorSally Potter
Production CompanyBritish Film Institute
 Channel Four
ProducerNancy Vandenbergh
WriterSally Potter
'Romeo and Juliet' bySergei Prokofiev

Cast: Jacky Lansley (Jack Winger); Lol Coxhill (Mr Popper); George Yiassoumi ('The Door'); Arthur Fincham (The Minister)

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While Britain chooses between Europe and the US as political allies, three characters decide to act.

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Made in just three months, The London Story (1986) was Sally Potter's way of getting back into filmmaking after the critical (and, according to Potter herself, artistic) failure of her 1983 feature, The Gold Diggers. Potter felt that the narration of that film had been handled badly, and indeed The London Story does offer a tight, intriguing plot - all the more so because we are never told exactly what the three 'spies' are doing and why, nor what the mysterious 'MacGuffin' - the envelope passed from hand to hand - actually is. In fact, the envelope and its journey give the film its narrative drive, making the rounds in a circular dance from the minister via the spies to the enigmatic black-clad ice-skater and eventually back again to the minister.

This virtually dialogue-free film is performed very much as a silent comedy might be, with bodily gesture and dance doing the work of sketching in the characters and moving the story along. At home in his seedy room, the doorman (George Yiassoumi) rehearses the gestures that his job requires; Lol Coxhill's briefcase man swerves around on the bike and totters gingerly across the ice to meet his contact; Jacky Lansley's femme fatale, complete with red dress, leads the closing dance with her two henchmen.

A tight, elegant and witty film, The London Story lovingly evokes earlier forms of cinema - Technicolor musicals as well as silent comedies and spy thrillers. It recruits familiar London landmarks for its allusions to the relationship between government (represented by Parliament and Whitehall on one side of the Thames) and the arts (represented by the South Bank - which, as Londoners will know, is the site of an arts complex - on the other).

Annette Kuhn

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Video Clips
Complete film (15:31)
Potter, Sally (1949-)
Powell, Sandy (1961-)