Comprised of 11 short films, London Unplugged is a valiant attempt to wrestle back the prevailing image of our capital city from the cinematic fantasies of both idealised romcoms and mockney gangster flicks. The result, a collaboration between the London Film School, Psychology News, Four Corners Film and the Migrant Resource Centre, is a mixed bag, delivering the odd strong moment but falling down in delivering a gripping, vital compelling portrait of the thriving metropolis.
The film opens with athlete Yourlance Bianca Richards setting off from Stratford on a run to Kew Gardens (which forms the backdrop for the final story), musing on London (“no-one has time for anyone”), the joys and pains of running and her fractured relationship with her family. It’s a potentially engaging device but becomes repetitive: Richards’ words are powerful, but appearing only in voiceover on top of her sortie from east to west, you never feel the emotional weight as you should.
An ultimately unsatisfying experience.
As the individual shorts kick in, all the issues informing London life are hit. George Taylor’s brace of films tackle different forms of big city loneliness. Juliet Stevenson stars in Felines, an inconsequential twist-in-the-tale story about a woman who looks in on an elderly neighbour to find the cats running amok. Better is Dog Days, as two Londoners (Melanie Gray, Ivanno Jeremiah) from different walks of life find a connection in escaping the rat race with an illicit midnight swim. Elsewhere, immigration (Unchosen), gentrification (Mudan Blossom) and the tough choices in pursuing a creative life (Pictures) are all grappled with but let down by weak production values and variable writing and performances.
Elsewhere, some of the smaller, less ambitious films work better; Mitchell Crawford’s Club Drunk is an enjoyable animated take on Shoreditch night life and Andrew Cryan’s Little Sarah’s Big Adventure follows a child giving her mum the slip and exploring the South Bank. Layke Anderson’s Shopping is a well-played two-hander set in a Soho sex shop as Ricky Nixon’s punter gets a philosophy lesson from a butt-plug peddler (Bruce Payne). The best of the bunch, Andres Heger-Bratterud’s The Door To, gets at London elitism as a young Norwegian guy (Stephen Cavanagh) tries to inveigle his way into a secret club to join the cool kids. Well-plotted, confidently shot and consistently intriguing, it’s a high point in a well meaning but bitty, ultimately unsatisfying experience.