Lights! Camera! London! @ London Film Museum

Laurence Olivier's jacket from The Battle of Britain, one of a handful of props and costumes on display.

Ever visited the London Film Museum in Covent Garden? It’s been open since April last year, as a second venue for the South Bank attraction of the same name, yet we suspect general awareness remains low.

We paid a visit on Saturday afternoon to catch Lights! Camera! London!, a new(ish) exhibition about the capital in the movies. While not exactly empty, it was hardly the thriving hubbub we’d expect from a compelling exhibition in the very centre of tourist land. Indeed, the cafe was perhaps the quietest spot in the whole of Covent Garden.

Which is a pity because this is an interesting place. The permanent collection is tiny but fascinating — objects and stories relating to the early days of cinema and the moving image. You’ll only spend 20 minutes maximum perusing this section, but you’ll probably learn a good deal.

The temporary exhibition looks back over more than a century of films featuring London. The subject is broken down into various sections — London at War, Gaslight London, London destroyed, London Comedies, etc. Within each, storyboards list out some of the filmic highlights of the genre, while clips are projected onto a third wall. A handful of props, costumes and memorabilia are also on show.

There’s no great depth to this exhibition, but the overall effect is to give you a lengthy list of films you really want to see. So much so that we were gagging to get to the gift shop and spend a few pounds on classic DVDs. For perhaps the first time ever, we were disappointed to find no such outlet — surely a missed opportunity. There is a large and laid-back cafe, however, which serves a mighty fine cuppa.

London Film Museum is at 45 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7BN, open seven days a week. It looks like an office reception…perhaps the reason that visitor numbers aren’t high, but don’t be put off. Entrance is free.

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  • Christopher Fowler

    I went to this on the day it opened, and found it a sparse, badly organised arrangement of random clips and potted histories familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of film. It was also £8.50 a ticket, so I’m glad they’ve had a rethink. The staff were lovely, though, and I agree it could do with a shop. a good idea.

    • MattFromLondonist

      £8.50! Jesus. It’s no way worth that. But as a free exhibition, it’s a good way to learn about London films you might not be aware of.