England’s capital has something for everyone and so does this list of suggestions that will get you in the swing. By Hazel Flynn.
Swot up on London’s history, culture and beloved icons
If you don’t have young children in your life, you might think that 2014’s Paddington isn’t for you. But this movie, drawn from Michael Bond’s books about the little bear from “Darkest Peru” seeking a new home in London, is a funny, life-affirming joy at any age. Ben Whishaw (James Bond’s Q ) perfectly voices the title character, ably supported by British favourites including Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters (who battle Nicole Kidman as the villianous Millicent). The production design and music are topnotch.
◖ Luther: Idris Elba inhabits the title role of a renegade police detective with such intensity that you can forget to breathe as you watch him. In this limitedepisode TV series, which began in 2010, DCI John Luther’s London is gritty and dark but always compelling.
Zadie Smith’s bestselling novel, White Teeth, (2000) would have been impressive from a latecareer writer; as a debut, it announced the arrival of a rare talent. Smith aims to capture every facet of life in the British capital through the interwoven stories of two immigrant families – one from Jamaica, the other from Bangladesh – moving deftly from pointed social observation and human drama to comic set pieces.
◖ Everyone Brave is Forgiven
(2016): Vivid, extraordinarily moving and sometimes shocking in its depiction of war’s cost, Chris Cleave’s novel follows its three central characters through the Blitz and beyond.
◖ The Secret History of the Blitz (2015): Historian Joshua Levine reveals the complicated mix of hedonism, lawlessness, stoicism and resilience that characterised World War II London.
Covering 2000 years of history, Peter Ackroyd’s highly acclaimed book London: The Biography is an 848-page thumper. But rather than turn it into a single epic audiobook, publisher Random House has divided it into five themed, user-friendly audiobooks running three hours each, with actor and writer Simon Callow providing the narration. Choose from Foundations, Street Life and the People, Trade and Enterprise, Fire and Pestilence or Districts and Suburbs.
◖ Shut Up (2015): Grime music is the British take on hip-hop that began in the city’s tower blocks and became a sensation. Stormzy is one of its biggest stars and this infectious (and explicit) freestyle rap, viewable on his official YouTube channel, propelled him to stardom. ◖ Semper Femina: If grime is too hectic for you, calm your ears with Laura Marling’s hypnotic, erudite, folk-inflected sixth album, from 2017.
(From top) Zadie Smith’s White Teeth; the city’s iconic black cabs and red buses; Paddington Bear