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We asked Society members for nominations of the films that encapsulate the spirit of the capital. Here are your top choices.

What did we miss? You can comment below to share your favourites (or to take exception to any on this list).


This Happy Breed (David Lean, 1944)

  • Noel Coward's chronicle of everyday life between the wars. One member wrote: 'Although it’s wholly inappropriate in today’s world, the sandwich man makes me think of the London of my childhood.'

Hue and Cry (Charles Crichton, 1947)

  • The first of the Ealing Comedies, shot almost entirely on location in a war-ravaged London 'showing us the bombsites and the still-industrial Thames'.

Passport to Pimlico (Henry Cornelius, 1949)

  • Lots of love for this Ealing comedy. Also many people thinking that turning their neighbourhood into a post-Brexit independent state no longer looks such a daft idea.

Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950)

  • ‘Unarguably the finest British film noir ever made.’ Hustler Richard Widmark attempts to outwit the villainous Herbert Lom. It doesn’t end well.

Seven Days to Noon  (John and Roy Boulting,1950)

  • Political thriller and anti-nuclear activism that puts central London in jeopardy. 'Never before (or since) has the city itself played such a role in building slow tension and pervading dread,' said one fan.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire  (Val Guest, 1961)

  • London burns as Earth’s orbit is altered. A perhaps prescient (though unintended) warning about climate change.

A Hard Day's Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

  • The Fab Four cavort around Marylebone, the West End, Notting Hill, Twickenham and along the river at Putney.

Three Hats for Lisa  (Sidney Hayers, 1965)

  • A scenic tour of London in the sixties (when it was just starting to swing) with added songs. Features Sid James and Una Stubbs.

 Blow Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

  • The swinging sixties – mod London, nightclubs, beautiful people, fast cars. Plus murder, paranoia and existential futility.

Jemina + Johnny (Lionel Ngakane, 1966)

  • A charming short in which a five-year-old white boy befriends a black girl newly arrived in Notting Hill, at a time of highly volatile racial tensions. Free to watch on the BFIPlayer.

The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1980)

  • Bob Hoskins plans a major deal with the New York mafia while his criminal empire is attacked by the IRA. Perfectly captures (and predicts) a period in time before the city went from bust to boom.

The Chain (Jack Gold, 1984)

  • A flawless script by Jack Rosenthal following a succession of households and their removal teams as each moves up the property ladder into the next one's old house. 

Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)

  • Richard E Grant and Paul McGann as two out-of-work-actors on the cusp of a new decade in an evocatively down at heel Camden of 1969. Eminently quotable, including the cry of all Londoner’s who leave the city “we’ve gone on holiday by mistake”.

Hidden City  (Stephen Poliakoff, 1988)

  • Political thriller starring Charles Dance, Cassie Stuart, Richard E Grant and Bill Paterson. Suggested as: 'A forgotten gem that conveys the sense of London as a layered city full of secrets and hidden histories.'

London (Patrick Keiller, 1994)

  • The ultimate psychogeograhic investigation into what unseen protagonist Robinson calls 'the problem of London'. Philosophical, historical and political pronouncements meet intimate visual studies of the minutiae of urban life in this portrait of the capital in 1992, lyrically narrated by Paul Scofield.

Wonderland  (Michael Winterbottom, 1999)

  • 'Always felt very real-London to me,' said one Twitter reply to our call out. Hand-held cameras, colour-streaked stop-frame effects, real-life location shoots, and a storyline at odds with a deliberately ironic title help.

28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002)

  • Post-apocalyptic fare, as Cillian Murphy awakes from a coma to find a deserted city.

Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

  • Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and an all-star British cast splatter north London with fake blood and gore in this zombie spoof. A regular in both 'greatest comedies' and 'best ever horror' polls.

Kidulthood (Menhaj Huda, 2006)

  • Teenage kicks in W11, written by its star, Noel Clarke, who followed up with Adulthood and Brotherhood. A strong, if violent, platform for underrepresented voices.

Paddington, and Paddington 2 (Paul King 2014, 2017)

  • Everyone’s favourite marmalade-loving Peruvian provides a ‘spot the location’ overview of the capital in these two funny and charming films.
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