Maggie Reinfeld, an MA Film Studies student at King’s College London, who is currently on placement with London’s Screen Archives, has curated a selection of six films from our collection on the theme of London Untold.
This collection celebrates the everyday lives of Londoners. Through personal stories of childhood, leisuretime and marriage and documentary perspectives on domestic, city and suburban spaces an untold history of London emerges. These films provide a glimpse into daily experiences and ordinary settings far-removed from the city’s poster-style image and its central landmarks. Here, the emphasis is on the less visible face of the capital and the citizens who make up its dynamic, diverse and ever-shifting landscape. They focus on animals, children, interracial couples, commuters, victims of domestic violence, and suburban families – each tells a moving story.
The films in this gallery were digitised through the Unlocking Film Heritage fund and are part of the BFI’s Britain on Film project.
This compilation of films is an idyllic and carefree look at childhood in the 1950s. The children take pleasure in dancing, eating, and spending time with animals – be it majestic elephants at the London Zoo or mundane urban pigeons. These films show both the life of the ordinary child and the extraordinary way in which that child sees the world.
May Pole Dance July 1956; Picnic Trip to Finchley July 1956; London Zoo Aug 1956; Windsor Castle Sept 1956
It’s great to see how people acted and dressed at weddings at this time – a particular stand-out is the shot of four young men with huge quiffs deep in conversation. Pay particular attention to the flowers and the confetti, as their colours seem to glow against the neutrals. What is most affective about these films is the abundant number of party guests and how happy they appear to be celebrating with family and friends.
Eileen's Wedding 31st October 1955; Joan's wedding 31st March 1956
This enjoyable film of men and women dancing is made interesting by the racial diversity of the couples. In the club, the youngsters listen to a band, jive, drink and smoke – “cigarette smoking only” insists one prominent sign. The relaxed atmosphere and great dancing sets a wonderful mood in this film.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure roll 15 - club, mixed couples
After some shots of people shopping, this film takes us onto the Tube, following the whole process – buying a ticket, through the barrier, down the escalator, on the Piccadilly Line train, up the escalator, out the exit gate. This film invites the viewer to gaze at the passengers and wonder about their lives, just as one would do on their own commute.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure Roll 54 - underground station, people
The narrator decries, “Suburban life has been described as having the good qualities of neither town nor countryside and the suburbanite as being smug, comfortable, and above all, middle class.” This film portrays the middle class suburban life, though not without a hint of a critical eye. Talking us through the town of Eltham are the White family, including Mr White, who works as a policeman in Westminster: “It’s not uncommon to be asked the time when standing under Big Ben. As a kindness we try not to look up at it.”