London has long been one of the great world cities—the beating heart of the British Empire in the past and still now the metropole par excellence. Famed for its political, financial and cultural institutions, it is a living and mutating locus that has been best defined and brought to fullest life by its working-class inhabitants—both the indigenous Cockneys and, in more recent years, the members of diverse ethnic minorities. This paper investigates the ways in which these ordinary Londoners have been portrayed in British cinema since the Second World War. London and its denizens have often been taken metonymically as a symbol for British society as a whole. Thus the shifting cinematic representations of Londoners during the 70 or more years since WW2 have much to tell us about the major social upheavals in the second half of the 20th century and after: the communalism of the so-called ‘people’s war’ during the Blitz (London Can Take It!); 1940s austerity (the Ealing Comedies); the juvenile crime wave in the 1950s (Night and the City; The Blue Lamp); Swinging London (Alfie; The Knack; Up the Junction); Thatcherism (The Long Good Friday; My Beautiful Laundrette); 1980s multiculturalism (Bend It Like Beckham); and the dystopia of the 1990s and after (Nil by Mouth; Fish Bowl). This paper will look at the ways in which London and its Londoners have constantly undergone transformations and at how the cinema has constructed and reconstructed these evolving identities against the sociopolitical backdrop of modern Britain.
Robert Cross, Doshisha University, Japan
Stream: Media, Film and Communication Studies
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