Q&A/FILM REVIEW: City Of Tiny Lights starring Riz Ahmed & Billie Piper

WORTH A LOOK?: ***

WHERE: BFI

WHEN: 28/3, film released in the UK 7/4

‘Straight in, no messing,’ jokes Rogue One: A Star Wars Story actor Riz Ahmed as the first question the audience asks is his thoughts on Brexit.

  • Read on for reasons including why City Of Tiny Lights is a London film with a difference

It’s a relevant question because City Of Tiny Lights, the film we have just seen in which he stars and is here to talk about, out 7/4, received European Union funding.

‘If only we could go back in time,’ says Ahmed. ‘It’s really worrying not least because we got a lot of money from Europe.’

The film’s director Pete Travis (pictured second from left below) is more explicit: ‘It’s totally f***ing depressing. If you voted for it, you should leave now. This film celebrates difference. Why should Europe give us money if we become little Englanders?’

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City Of Tiny Lights is based on a novel by Patrick Neate which is set in modern-day west London and features private eye Tommy Akhtar (played by Ahmed) who investigates a case of a missing prostitute as he is coming to terms with the death of a friend 20 years earlier (the boyfriend of Billie Piper’s character).

It’s a love story which also deals with themes of friendship but also the gentrification of an area and Travis describes it as unlike many other London films. ‘There are no posh people in Notting Hill who can’t decide whether they want to go out with each other. There are no helicopter shots of Canary Wharf.

‘If you look out on to the London skyline, you’ll see lots of small, flickering lights and behind every one of them is a story that rarely gets told. This is one of those stories.’

Piper, nominated for an Olivier Award 9/4 for her performance in Yerma at the Young Vic, loves living and working in London: ‘I can see why the version of London Pete refers to works around the world because it’s charming and friendly. This film reflects the London I know.’

Ahmed explains that he was approached by Travis five years ago to make the film. ‘No-one was approaching me to be in films five years ago. I felt bound to him out of loyalty. I also knew about Patrick’s writing because he is a spoken word artist who runs a club called Book Slam. Check it out.’

The love story element of the film appealed to Piper. ‘She’s a really normal chick with a tragic past. It’s a love lost situation and I really fell for that.’

There’s a memorable scene in the film when a dysfunctional family of characters come together to celebrate Christmas. Travis says: ‘Cities are all about the weird connections that you make with people. That’s what makes London such an exciting place to live and why I’ve been here 30 years.’

Ahmed watched noir films like LA Confidential, Long Good Friday, Chinatown and Mona Lisa to get a feel for the genre but he says it was the ‘soulfulness’ that Travis brought to the film that excited him.

He’s also upbeat about the industry: ‘Right now we’re seeing a golden age of TV. There are so many fine shows. We are seeing really specific stories and it is this authenticity that is resonating with people.’

Asked whether such diversity is welcome, he jokes: ‘May be there are a couple of sales agents in Russia who are scared off by me on the poster but f*** them.’

We enjoyed City Of Tiny Lights not least because it’s interesting to see a film about the city in which you live that feels a bit more real than Hollywood’s take on London.

Billie Piper is one of our favourite actresses and it’s a thrill to see Ahmed in something so representative of his roots so quickly after the success of Rogue One. Our only criticism would be that we saw the plot twist coming about an hour before our private eye.

  • Main picture via Facebook courtesy City Of Tiny Lights. The BFI regularly stages events like these. Tickets
  • Enjoyed this Q&A? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham, email neildurham3@gmail.com and check us out on Facebook

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