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Saturday Night at the Movies

By Andrew Stevens.

There’s no link sadly (possibly conscious of inevitable online ridicule) but this week’s New Statesman carries a review of Hanif Kureishi’s Collected Stories by former Sun editor David Yelland. There’s something deliciously twisted perhaps about the notion of Yelland, who also toiled under the tabloid’s notorious Thatcherite editor Kelvin McKenzie, heaping praise on Kureishi as he, like Alastair Campbell before him, makes that post-breakdown transition from burnt out newsman to novelist himself and gets trotted out onto the publicity circuit.

Such surreal irony provides us with the opportunity to reflect back on that era. London Kills Me (1991) is a difficult film in many senses. Difficult to get hold of now, sure (a DVD release is both overdue and keenly anticipated). Difficult for Kureishi’s reputation as a screenwriter, as it has failed to secure anywhere near the critical attention of his mid-eighties work with Stephen Frears or The Buddha of Suburbia television adaptation in the early nineties. The film does however segue beautifully into the likes of Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993) and Patrick Keiller’s London (1994), both of which adroitly survey the ruins of the capital following the ravages of Thatcherism and act almost as a triumvirate of post-Jarman Kureishiland, an era which was in itself swept away by the synthetic (or naive) optimism of Britpop and New Labour. Chris Petit recently claimed that on reflection his own Radio On (1979) “ended with a car ‘stalled on the edge of the future’, which we didn’t know then would be Thatcherism.” The tragically misfortunate characters of London Kills Me find themselves staring right back into that void. The film includes Steven Mackintosh as a lead, him later going on to feature in Kureishi’s Buddha of Suburbia and The Mother, and most recently as Peter Mandelson in a TV docudrama (Yelland famously arranged for a sly wink homophobic war of words against the Europhile cabinet minister through the pages of his paper, declaring that Britain was run by a “gay mafia” and taunting Mandelson as the “Dishonourable Member for Copacabana East”, water under the bridge now, both claim).

David Yelland has his function here, but it’s as a stoker in the New Right’s boiler room during much of what transpired in Kureishi’s books and films, not a peer hopefully seeking to achieve a modicum of equivalence.

First posted: Saturday, March 20th, 2010.

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