Courtesy of Lionsgate
Courtesy of NBC Universal
The rom-com “Notting Hill” stars two masters of the form.
Until you can spend more time on the Thames, keep calm and carry on with this list of our favorite films about London.
London’s calling, but you can’t exactly pick up right now. Until we can return to visit the lovely familiar sights—the winding Thames, Trafalgar Square, Regents Park, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament—we’ve made a list of our favorite movies about London. We’ve included romantic comedies, brilliant farces, suspense films, costume dramas, as well as London characters like Mary Poppins, Bridget Jones, and the Beatles. Make yourself a cuppa (or a toddy) and settle in for a satisfying visit across the pond.
A fab photographer, played by David Hemmings, lives a hedonistic London life; then he meets Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), whom he photographs in a park, against her wishes. When he develops the film and enlarges the shots, he thinks he has captured a murder. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. (A memorable scene includes the Yardbirds playing in a club.) —Pat Tompkins, Copy editor
I defy you to watch the opening scene of this rollicking movie—the impossibly adorable Beatles being chased by screaming fans down London streets and through Marylebone Station—and not feel as thrilled as a giddy teenager yourself. The movie’s plot provides just enough of gossamer thread to support scenes of the lads effortlessly having the times of their lives, cavorting in fields, appearing onstage, charming young women, and confusing uptight adults all over London. —Ann Shields, Managing editor, travel guides
Not just a romantic comedy, this film from writer and director Gurinder Chadha has an undercurrent of strong social commentary that rings true no matter what age you watch it (and watch it again). In the movie—one of the highest-grossing sports films focusing on soccer—two young women in West London are following their dreams of becoming professional athletes, only to be beset by cultural expectations and stereotypes of what a woman should and shouldn’t do. Killer soundtrack, too. —Katherine LaGrave, Digital features editor
No, I’m not talking about the Hulu remake (though the 2019 TV series does offer some swoony shots of Notting Hill and Portobello Road). I’m talking about the 1994 rom-com classic, with Hugh Grant in all his flop-haired glory and Andie MacDowell as the one who got away . . . then came back . . . then got away again. Who doesn’t love racing to various altars in Surrey and the Hertfordshire countryside with the disheveled cohort of friends? Though it’s the final scene out front of Charles’s brick flat on Highbury Terrace—and the distinctly British take on love, lost and won—that feels like the best representation of London. —Laura Dannen Redman, Digital content director
Julie Christie stars as a model in Swinging 60s London. Self-centered and ambitious, she pursues money and fame in affairs with businessmen (Dirk Bogarde and Laurence Harvey), working her way up to Princess status and an empty life. Christie became the film world’s “darling” with this role, which won her the Best Actress Oscar at age 25.—P.T.
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The wildly successful 1996 Helen Fielding novel was transformed into a wildly successful (and pretty funny) movie. Renée Zellweger stars as Bridget, the bumbling, helplessly romantic “singleton.” As her potential love interests, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth both revisit roles they’ve played before: Grant as the ridiculously charming cad and Firth as the misunderstood and smoldering Mr. Darcy. You’ll be sorry when this silly comedy ends. —A.S.
Don’t write off About Time because it’s about time travel. By deftly using the trope of time travel—which could be hokey and unbelievable—the filmmaker tells a lovely story about romantic love and family. The movie, directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), also inserts a very British sense of humor throughout. The plot plays out against a backdrop of London—in Maida Vale, on the Tube, and at the Old Vic—and involves the romance between Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mary (Rachel McAdams), plus Tim’s relationship with his father (Bill Nighy). When Tim discovers he can time travel, the gift leads to questions about how to use it. Just try not to cry when you hear Tim’s reflection at the end about his “extraordinary, ordinary life.” —Annie Fitzsimmons, Luxury travel + advisor editor
Venture far off the scenic route in this surprising comedy. Omar, desperate for a job, is tasked with running his uncle’s shabby laundromat. He enlists the help of his ex-beau, Johnny, a white punk and outsider in Omar’s Pakistani London world. If that sounds dreary, it’s not, thanks in part to Daniel Day-Lewis and director Stephen Frears. This was an early film for both. —P.T.
No, London is not candy-colored and filled with adorable dancing penguins and high-stepping chimney sweeps, but the Banks’s house on Cherry Tree Lane may remind you of Edwardian streets around Kensington and Chelsea. And look! There are the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the old narrow streets around the Bank of England and the City. Parents who haven’t seen the original since they were children may enjoy the magical nanny’s chilly quirkiness and the suffragette subplot more than they expect to. —A.S.
In this romantic comedy directed by Richard Curtis, Will Thacker (Hugh Grant) runs an independent bookstore in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood, where he encounters Hollywood star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) in a meet-cute involving orange juice. I love this movie so much, as much for the shots of leafy, cobblestoned London as for the feel-good, impossible-still-somehow-possible premise. —K.L.
A top-flight British cast, led by American Reese Witherspoon as poor, orphaned Becky Sharp, enlivens this depiction of Thackery’s satirical novel. Starting as a governess, she proves to be a relentless social climber. The portrait of Regency England society filmed in London and surrounding shires is a visual treat, too. Directed by Mira Nair. —P.T.
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Can one seemingly insignificant moment alter the course of your life? That’s the butterfly-effect question explored by Sliding Doors. This romantic comedy follows two different possible storylines: one in which Gwyneth Paltrow’s character barely catches a train and one in which she doesn’t. As anyone who has been to London knows, the Tube is the city’s central nervous system, and its starring role lends this film an authentic feel. The Thames, another defining characteristic of London’s geography, also gets deserved attention with beautiful shots on the Albert Bridge. –Ciera Velarde, Newsletter engagement editor
While on vacation, the son of an American couple (Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day) is kidnapped to prevent his parents from revealing what they’ve accidentally learned: a leading politician will soon be assassinated in London. Complications galore ensue, and music plays a key role in two tense scenes, including one in Albert Hall. (Alfred Hitchcock’s first version of this story, from 1934, is much shorter and includes Peter Lorre.) —P.T.
This comic retelling of the story of Dr. Faust trading his soul to the devil for a shot at love is set in late 1960s London and recast with Peter Cook as the devil and Dudley Moore as an easily duped short-order cook in love with a chilly waitress. The cook, Stanley, is offered seven wishes to win Margaret’s love—as a millionaire, as a pop star, as an intellectual, etcetera. The fantastically deadpan devil outwits him time and again, often aided in his efforts by a cast of the seven deadly sins, including Raquel Welch, who personifies Lust. —A.S.
An inexperienced teacher faces a wild bunch of high school students in a poor neighborhood. That familiar story takes place in London’s East End, where Sidney Poitier tries a no-textbooks approach to engage his unruly class. The theme song, sung by one student, Lulu, spent more than a month at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Sentimental? Sure. Sing along? Oh, yeah. —P.T.
Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea, directed by Neil Jordan? If that isn’t enough, the story is adapted from a Graham Greene novel and set in postwar London. A novelist (Fiennes) becomes obsessed with learning why Sarah (Moore) ended their affair during the war. He hires a detective to follow her. What he learns does not lead to a happy ending for this tale of adultery. —P.T.
I could write 400 words about the dance scene in RocknRolla alone, but that would be doing a disservice to the movie. A classic Guy Ritchie caper, the film follows characters in the London and Russian underworlds mostly all trying to one-up the other. The cast is full of U.K. greats clearly just having fun, counting Tom Wilkinson, Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, and Idris Elba among its stars. —K.L.
If the current news cycle is informing your video selection, 28 Days Later is the way to go. A virus that turns people into fast-moving zombies has broken out in London, and within a month, it’s decimated the city. In a jaw-dropping scene early in the movie, Cillian Murphy’s character wakes up from a month-long coma to wander the abandoned streets of London alone. There is a chilling but starkly beautiful shot of a deserted Westminster Bridge, with Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster in the background. (According to IMDb, the filmmakers were able to get the shot by closing roads to traffic at 4 a.m., working quickly, and reopening the roads after an hour.) –C.V.
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