Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • A
  • Crime, Drama
  • 1929
  • 114 mins

Piccadilly

Piccadilly

Synopsis

Stand-out British silent film following the fortunes of Anna May Wong's exotic scullery maid-turned-night club superstar

About

German director EA Dupont arrived in London via Hollywood (where he made one of his major silent films, Variety) and France (ditto Moulin Rouge) in 1929, as one of the world's foremost filmmakers. Just as silent films were giving way to talkies in Hollywood, he brought his technically innovative style to Britain and created one of the major works of British silent cinema.

Advanced not only in its direction and composition, the film also touches on elements of film noir with its story of a highly sexualised and exotic woman and her tragic influence on those around her. Anna May Wong had moved from Hollywood to find better roles in European cinema and stars here as Shosho, the scullery maid whose sultry tabletop dancing catches the eye of her boss, Piccadilly Club owner Valentine Wilmot (Thomas).

Elevated from maid to star dancer, Shosho invokes jealousy in fellow dancer Mabel (Gray), who is jealous not only of her popularity but also Valentine's romantic interest in her. Shosho's exotic good looks are exploited by Valentine to draw customers to his club, but are also the lure that eventually causes her downfall, like the femme fatales that would later feature prominently in noir cinema.

The London that Piccadilly evokes is a city divided between the glamorous West End and the working class East End, where Shosho lives. In a stunningly shot scene, Shosho and Valentine visit a Limehouse pub where a black man is thrown out for dancing with a white woman. Ethnicity is acceptable here but within confines decided by white Londoners. To transgress this, like the man in the pub or Shosho attracting Valentine's advances, is dangerous.

Wong's performance transcends the conservative storyline in which her character operates; Shosho is a modern free woman who leaves an indelible impression upon characters in the film and viewers alike.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Cyril Ritchard, Charles Laughton, Hannah Jones, Jameson Thomas, Anna May Wong, King Ho-Chang, Gilda Gray
  • Director: Ewald André Dupont
  • Screen Writer: Arnold Bennett
  • Producer: Ewald André Dupont
  • Photographer: Werner Brandes
  • Composer: Neil Brand

In a nutshell

A drama of sexual and racial politics set against the buzz of jazz-age London culture, Piccadilly is an incredibly modern silent film featuring a career-best performance from Anna May Wong.

by Laura Bushell

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4

    Our Kind of Traitor

    Ewan McGregor, Damian Lewis and Naomie Harris star in this British spy thriller, adapted from the novel by John le Carré (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy).

  • Film4

    I Killed My Mother

    French Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan stars in his directorial debut, a semi-autobiographical comedy-drama about the bonds between mother and son.

  • Film4

    Ted and Flash Gordon Double Bill on Film4

    Seth MacFarlanes adult comedy followed by the cult sci-fi adventure that acts as a running-joke throughout it.

  • Film4

    This Is 40 on Film4

    (2012) 124 mins 15 Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann star in writer-director-producer Judd Apatow's relationship comedy-drama, a 'sort of sequel' to his second hit feature, Knocked Up.

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Berlin 2016: Homo Sapiens

    We're now three days into the Berlin Film Festival, and despite fierce competition from some hotly-tipped heavy hitters (including world premieres of Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special & Mia Hansen-Lø

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Berlin 2016: Hail, Caesar!

    Film4 Site Editor Michael Leader reports on the Berlinale's opening film, written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen... Since it follows the Coen Brothers' essayistic dive into 1960s Greenwich V

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share