London: the Modern Babylon (15)


Anthony Quinn
Thursday 02 August 2012 18:58

Julien Temple's kaleidoscopic portrait of London since 1900 is sprawling and uneven, yet vibrant and humorous, rather like the city itself.

In its moving use of archive footage it stands as a kind of pendant to the recent BBC2 series The Secret History of Our Streets, tracing the London we know through the lineaments of its often troubled past.

Civil violence is a linking theme, from the suffragettes and the 1911 siege of Sidney Street, Mosley's Blackshirts of the 1930s and the race riots of Notting Hill, right through the Thatcher convulsions (Brixton, the poll tax) to the 7/7 bombings and last summer's riots. Temple begins his account with a marvellous 106-year-old Hackney woman named Hetty, reliving memories of Kitchener's hateful mug and her own part in the 1936 Battle of Cable Street. An old cockney geezer and a Caribbean wheeler-dealer also add their vivid twopenn'orth. A lot more of them and a bit less of Tony Benn and Michael Horovitz would have been welcome.

Musically, it covers the waterfront, from the music hall to punk and most stops in between (great to hear LKJ's "Inglan Is a Bitch"). A proper script might have pulled it together, lent it a shape beyond the chronological plod, but even in its raggedness there's much to absorb.

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