A petty criminal, peruses the comics. "Easy Pickings", he thinks. But "easy pickings" and easy answers don't mean taking control. London Belongs to Me now seems terrifyingly prophetic. The film begins in the London of 1938 : social change is already underway. Once grand terraces are now multiple occupancy rooming houses, with lodgers who can't meet their rents, or feed their gas meters. The landlady, Mrs Vizzard, lives in grand delusion, still dressed in Edwardian garb, her home cluttered as if in Victorian time warp. A new lodger (Mr Squales) turns up. He's so unnatural that she thinks he's an actor. He is, but not quite in the way she thinks. Mrs Vizzard hosts seances for dodgy mediums who claim to commune with the dead and foretell the future. Think on that.
It's Christmas, and Mr and Mrs Josser, daughter Doris and Uncle Henry are having Christmas dinner. Fellow tenant Connie fakes a faint to con a free feed. The family discuss the Munich Agreement. As he cracks a walnut, Uncle Henry says "If we don't wake up, Hitler will have us like this!" "For goodness sake", says Mrs Josser, "Put on your paper hat and enter into the spirit". Percy the flashy young spiv takes Doris to a dodgy night club, which gets raided. Percy escapes but Doris gets caught. But the policeman, Sgt Bill Wilson, who takes her details, doesn't note them in the right place, because he fancies her. Hoping to make enough money to start a business, Percy steals a car. Spotting the police, he panics. The ex-girlfriend who forced him to take her for a ride is killed, though it's not exactly clear how and by whom. Even Mr Squales worries that he might have been involved, without "being himself". .
Mrs Vizzard learns that Mr Squales has been faking photographs of ghosts at seances, and kicks him out. "I've no use for frauds and common adventurers". Squales overhears Sgt Wilson order Percy's arrest and uses this to have a trance "revelation" . When Percy is picked up, Mrs Vizzard is fooled all over again. In prison, Percy has graphic nightmares. "I never did it!" he cries. Mr Josser uses the money he's saved for a cottage in the country to hire a defence lawyer for Percy, even though he doesn't like the lad, because it's the moral thing to do. Mr Squales turns up for the prosecution. It seems the girlfriend was killed by a "blow to the head" though she was hit by a passing car after falling out of Percy's car. Percy is condemned. Won over by Mr Josser's generosity, Uncle Henry organizes a mission to save Percy, and raises a petition that gets so many names that it has to be carried to the Home Office pushed in a pram. Wonderful shots of the procession of protestors crossing Westminster Bridge in pouring rain ! Big Ben booms. It's 5 pm. Are they too late ? But the newspapers announce that Percy's been reprieved. It's August the 31st, 1939...; what happens next ? Air raid sirens. Mr Squales, now married to Mrs Vizzard, says the spirits tell him the war will soon be over. Mr and Mrs Josser are staying in London, despite the war. They wouldn't leave Doris. The film ends with a shot of Dulcimer Street. "They certainly are fine houses" says the narrator. So are some of the people within.
London Belongs to Me was made by Sidney Gilliat in 1948. It stars Richard Attenborough, then aged 25 though he looks even younger. It's long been one of the great classics of British cinema, but after the Brexit debacle, perhaps it means even more, now.