Five of London’s most cinematic locations with Hollywood director Mike Figgis
London skyline

Five of London’s most cinematic locations with Hollywood director Mike Figgis

The English capital is a vast, sprawling city that encompasses an electric blend of architectural, social and ethnic diversity. From swathes of greenery and the glassy Serpentine bordering the historic Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, to the futurism of Canary Wharf and the creative rejuvenation of East London, this is a city of contrasts. For local film director, musician and photographer Mike Figgis, this “defines why you would want to live in a town like London”. Famed for making Hollywood films such as the Oscar-winning Leaving Las Vegas, he is always drawn back home. Having recently returned from filming in Hong Kong, and in the lead up to the 2022 Academy Awards, the master storyteller and director takes us on a personal tour of his favourite, most cinematic parts of London. 

Mike Figgis and Ridley Scott

Blackfriars Bridge at 2am in the morning

“At this time, Blackfriars Bridge is so calm. I actually shot something here for the London Film Festival celebration – a kind of film noir-style homage to the city at about two in the morning. London is so deserted then, and there’s a spectacular view of the river, the South Bank, and of course the bridge – it just makes for this beautiful, deserted big city kind of image.”

Blackfriars Bridge

Primrose Hill and the top of Hampstead Heath

“You just have this spectacular view of London and it was used in lots of black-and-white Bill Brandt photos. There’s this wonderful, slightly windy part that goes to the top of the of the hill. Apparently, Primrose Hill was a burial site for plague victims back in the day, so it’s got this amazing history. When you get to the top of the hill, it’s almost as if you’re in the countryside, but you have a spectacular, almost 360° view of the city, where you can see all the way down to the river and the whole landscape of London.”

Chapel Market

“This is a real East End market and, from a cinematic point of view, it has this amazing, very authentic London energy. I walk through the market every day on my way to work. It’s terrific – you have a huge range of fish stalls, street food, watches and clothing and all kinds of things. It’s very colourful and very noisy and, since the pandemic, retailers have (for the better) put all these tables and chairs outside so that, even in the winter, you get all these old cottony characters sitting there sipping tea and smoking – it’s almost like a throwback to another era, but it’s very ‘London’.”

Chapel Market

Brick Lane Market

“Then, in contrast, there’s Brick Lane Market, where there’s this incredible ethnic mix that defines a vibrancy that is really infectious. It’s very high energy and colourful, with great smells, tastes and street food. And in the evening it converts into a young party place and there are lots of clubs and bars around. There’s a real 24/7 energy in the area. And it epitomises the kind of multicultural aspect of London that is very, very strong and so unique.”

Brick Lane market

The canals around King’s Cross and Islington

“I live around the area and it’s where my work studio is, too, so I’m always walking along the canal, underneath those bridges and by the lock. In the summer, Islington gets very lively when people hang out and socialise. In the winter, it becomes a bit sparser, but there’s something very beautiful about it – sometimes the canal is so still that it’s like a mirror. I just posted something on Instagram – this beautiful image of the trees reflected on the water. You see the seasons changing there so much. It’s a walking area, so there are no cars and there’s a sense of tranquillity, even though it’s so central – a complete contrast from, say, Euston Road close by. If you go down by the canal you’re suddenly in a different world because everything is so slow. Canals pretty much host the slowest forms of transport and everybody here accepts that dynamic. It’s very restful and a really nice way to start or finish the day.”

Kings Cross canal
Woman washing hands in bowl

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