London is the new Stock market
by Sarah Shannon

Forget Chicago and New York. The low-budget villainy of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels has transformed London into the movie world's top crime location. The capital is more used to appearing as the backdrop to smog-ridden period productions or romantic comedies. However, the success of Lock, Stock in the cut-throat international marketplace so impressed producers that it spawned half a dozen London imitators, all hoping for their share of the booty.

The Criminal, launched tonight at the London Film Festival, is a film noir starring Steven Mackintosh as a struggling musician who picks up a beautiful girl, played by Vanity Fair actress Natasha Little, in a bar. His excitement at the conquest turns to horror when he finds himself caught up in extortion and murder.

The Criminal also sees the return of Eddie Izzard to the big screen after Velvet Goldmine and the poorlyreceived The Avengers. He takes his first "serious" role, playing the forensic scientist who investigates the case. The Criminal's 23-year-old director Julian Simpson says he was determined to avoid the picture-postcard portrayal of London which is so beloved of Hollywood-backed films like Notting Hill and Sliding Doors. He said: "London can be the most amazing place in the world, but if you're down on your luck, powerless and without connections it can also be the most brutal."

Producer Chris Johnson added: "In a way those idyllic depictions of London are more cynical. They're like an advert for the British Tourist Board, playing to the commercial appeal of British stereotypes, a land of beefeaters and red buses."

The successor to Lock, Stock, called Snatch, is now being filmed in the jewellery district of Hatton Garden. Guy Ritchie's film reunites his earlier cast of Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham and Jason Flemyng, but also adds the extra punch of Hollywood players including Brad Pitt, who has a cameo role as an Irish gipsy turned prize fighter. Ritchie has also written a two-hour script for a television spin-off to his hit film for Channel 4. Like the original, it has a cast of relative unknowns playing a group of friends who unwittingly get mixed up in crime.

Another production using the film noir appeal of London is Love, Honour And Obey, about a north London postman who gets involved with a gang of criminals. Its Britpack cast almost guarantees success. Jude Law, Jonny Lee Miller, Rhys Ifans, Kathy Burke, Denise Van Outen, Sadie Frost and Ray Winstone all star in the film, which is awaiting a release date. Winstone is also cast in two other London-based films. In Sexy Beast he plays ex-gangster Gary who is enjoying a quiet retirement on the Costa Brava when a former partner in crime resurfaces to talk him into one last heist.

Meanwhile, Five Seconds To Spare has Winstone as a recording studio manager who dabbles in the criminal world. The film promises to be memorable for the first big screen appearance of DJ John Peel who plays a radio engineer.

Finally, and most hyped of all the new London crime films, is Honest, starring the All Saints sisters Natalie and Nicole Appleton and their fellow band member Melanie Blatt. Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics is directing the trio, who play a gang of East End women in the Sixties who turn to crime. American actor Peter Facinelli plays an Oxford University student who falls for one of the women.

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