Tthe UK release this week of Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger marks a welcome return to the British capital for the prolific director. The film is his fourth to be shot in London following Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra's Dream.
The ensemble comedy features a wealth of A-list talent including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, and Freida Pinto. The story follows a pair of married couples, Alfie and Helena, and their daughter Sally and husband Roy as their passions, ambitions, and anxieties lead them into trouble and out of their minds.
After Alfie (Hopkins) leaves Helena (Gemma Jones) to pursue his lost youth and a free-spirited call girl named Charmaine (Lucy Punch), Helena abandons rationality and surrenders her life to the advice of a charlatan fortune teller. Meanwhile, unhappy in her marriage, Sally (Watts) develops a crush on her boss Greg (Banderas), a handsome art gallery owner. While Sally's husband Roy (Brolin), a novelist nervously awaiting the response to his latest manuscript, becomes moonstruck over Dia (Freida Pinto), a mystery woman who catches his gaze through a nearby window.
Through the character's stories in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Allen explores the human need to elude life's adversities by nurturing illusions. The title refers to the familiar advice dished out by fortune tellers and also to, as Brolin's character puts it, "the tall dark stranger we all eventually meet", in the shape of the Grim Reaper.
Nicky Kentish Barnes, the film's co-producer who has worked on all of Allen's London-shot films, explains that "the new script didn't have to be UK-based" but that Allen chose to shoot in London because "he always enjoys shooting here". She continues "he's now got familiarity because he works with a lot of the same people and he enjoys the richness of what London has to offer."
Shot by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, the London of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is natural yet romantic, meandering through picturesque cultural spaces, promising windows, old book shops and wet city streets. The film was shot in array of west London locations, including Cleveland Square in Bayswater, Albion Riverside in Battersea and Bell Street in Westminster.
As the film's location manager, Michael Harm attests that Allen is an "actors" director and his film's centre upon dialogues set in the right environments that Allen feels these people live and work in: "He loves his walk and talk scenes on streets, in parks, by the river, and if they are not walking they are eating or drinking in bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes."
A notable scene takes place in a Notting Hill restaurant where his stars, Brolin and Pinto, are meeting. Crucially, Allen wanted rain beating against the windows of the restaurant. Allen has previously professed to be a "big fan of rain" and has pointed out that throughout his body of work "whenever the boy meets the girl and it's a rain scene they always mean business."
Allen normally finds London's overcast skies and occasional rain showers ideally suited for his methods of film-making, noting that the cool grey weather is very good for photography. However, on this occasion, the director found London playing against type, with bright sunshine and clear skies leading the resourceful director to call for a rain-making machine to create the atmosphere he desired.
Though the early films of Woody Allen will always be synonymous with New York, in recent years London has become a second cinematic home for the director, who has been drawn by the city's artistic potential and attractive financing opportunities. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger has been praised as his 'best London film yet', a return to form from one of the all time greats.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger will be in cinemas across the UK from Friday 18th March.