Take a cinematic voyage through night-time London inspired by Charles Dickens' Night Walks

By john joyce on 14 Oct 2011

Documentary filmmaker William Raban set out in March 2011 to make a film showing London at night as it is now and to contrast this with the lucid observations made by Dickens 150 years ago.

This film will form a key component of the Museum of London’s Dickens and London exhibition  which opens on 9 December 2011.

London and its night-time people form the characters of Charles Dickens’ essay Night Walks.

Here, William shares his thoughts on the creative process:

“Not being a creature of the night myself, I was challenged by the task of retracing the great man’s footsteps, setting off after midnight and returning “in the small hours” to observe and capture London haunts and their insomniac communities.

The first task was to become invisible so that I could film without people becoming affronted by the camera. 

I carried the equipment in a large supermarket bag pulling the tripod behind me strapped to a luggage trolley.  I blended with the other houseless people of the night and soon they became my friends. 

Filmed over five months, such are the fortunes of street cinematography that when luck was on my side, I returned with good shots; at other times, I came back with nothing.  

The Houseless Shadow is now nearly finished – taking its name from the following passage from Dickens’ Night Walks: “Drip, drip, drip, from ledge and coping, splash from pipes and water-spouts, and by-and-by the houseless shadow would fall upon the stones that pave the way to Waterloo Bridge.”

A soundtrack by David Cunningham perfectly complements the film in capturing the mood of night-time London in 2011.

I hope that when immersed in the Victorian exhibits, the film will leave visitors with a strong impression that the London of Charles Dickens comes alive in the present day, especially at night walking the city’s streets. 

There are striking differences from the mid Victorian age though some things remain remarkably similar such as when “the potmen thrust the last brawling drunkards onto the street”.  I wonder, what Dickens’ keen eye for injustice, what he would have made of the growing numbers of houseless on the streets of our glittering and conspicuously affluent city?”

A trailer for The Houseless Shadow, a 19 minute film by William Raban, is available to view on our YouTube channel here.

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