Hidden City [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (17th May 2024).
The Film

"Hidden City" (1987)

James Richards (played by Charles Dance) is a statistician who is giving a lecture and presentation to a group of primary school pupils, when suddenly the video screens start to show the wrong footage causing the kids to laugh hysterically. He makes a complaint resulting in the researcher to get fired. He is eventually confronted by a young woman named Sharon Newton (played by Cassie Stuart), who claims to be the person who was sacked from her job at the film library due to his complaint. But she is not looking for vengeance, but rather help in returning to the archives as she has claimed to have found disturbing mysterious archival footage and documents. She shows him vintage footage that has images of a woman being abducted. It leads to information stating that there is continuation in an archival film entitled "The Hedgerows of England", though for some reason the film is classified and is unavailable for viewing until the year 2050. As they delve deeper into various archives, libraries, and other clues, they start to encounter people who are trying to stop them from finding the truth...

Writer Stephen Poliakoff made a name for himself as a playwright and later a screenwriter for television and cinema. Standalone titles such as "Caught on a Train" (1980), "Bloody Kids" (1980), as well as his works for the omnibus series "Play for Today". The Film Four produced "Runners" from 1983 was the first of his scripts to be made for cinema screens, and this eventually led to Pliakoff's directorial debut with his original script for "Hidden City". Looking at conspiracies, the mysteries lurking through the alleyways and the underground tunnels of London, the hidden secrets within filmed footage leading to further secrets, and the technology to dive into an record people's dreams - all of it sounds like a recipe for a fascinating suspense thriller of high caliber. Yet why does "Hidden City" feel so flat?

There is some similarity to Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" (1985) in terms of an upright suited man finding out much more than he should by following a young woman, and there is also the similarities to Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up" (1966) in terms of a man finding secrets captured within film that no one was supposed to witness. With "Brazil" it was set in an alternate reality that was both futuristic and retro and Gilliam made sure to showcase the setting of society and the underbellies that the main character journeys through with brilliant witty humor through the characters and excellent visuals. For "Blow Up" it was set in contemporary London and it was clear to showcase the city, the culture, and this was also very memorable for audiences to experience. For "Hidden City" it does a great job with the setting, by showcasing modern London in areas that are seldom seen on screen but were there in plain sight. The canals that circle the city, the alleyways in between buildings, and the numerous tunnels that are part of the underground structure of the city. London does have a fascinating history with the underground tunnels built for trains, mail service, and bunkers from the early twentieth century, and while the film acknowledges it and uses some of those locations, it's certainly not the main draw of the production, as it is supposed to be about the characters and their journey uncovering secrets. What doesn't seem to work well are the logic behind the characters and the characters themselves.

There is character to James, with his uptightness and relying on math and facts for his life, not only for his occupation. He has a complicated relationship with his ex-wife Barbara (played by Tusse Silberg) in which they had no children together - something he was not interested in. He wrote one book, a study on sex and perception and has not written another book since due to lack of inspiration. He feels London has grown stale and he yearns to move out of the country for inspiration, but has not found the instinct to actually go. Dance plays the character in a straightforward way with gentlemanly appeal but also quite cold in nature. He seems disinterested in life itself, and though his encounter with the character of Sharon shows gradual change, it feels lackluster and not quite believable. This is not because of Dance's abilities, but with the character of Sharon and the unlikely partnership not having the connection it could have.

With the character of Sharon, she seems like the polar opposite of James, being much younger and living in less than ideal conditions with her young toddler daughter Jodie (played by Poliakoff's real daughter Laura Poliakoff). As for why she needs James' help in finding the clues to unravel the mystery seen in the old film footage doesn't quite add up, as he is not a government official and he is not particularly a necessary key to everything. Yet somehow he starts to get entangled in her requests to go further along, rummaging through a dump and going through warehouse archives and more for clues leading to clues. It's likely that he becomes attracted to the notion that there is more to the supposedly boring and stale city than meets his eye, though the film doesn't convincingly showcase his changes in mind. In addition, the facts leading from point A to B to C may be there, but they feel slightly contrived rather than logical to say the least. The sequences that should be tense, with James having to suddenly care for Sharon's toddler and him becoming hounded by agents doesn't seem like a logical choice either, as to why a young mother would trust a man who has never taken care of children to suddenly have to be with one for the entire day and night. The relationship between James and Sharon doesn't quite gel together, either as romantic or as trustworthy friends, and this unfortunately falls flat throughout.

One of the more interesting characters is Sharon's friend Brewster (played by Richard E. Grant) who also works at a film library and feeds off images and footage to extreme extent, is one out of a science fiction fantasy in "Brazil" territory rather than the realistic tone the film mostly sets itself in. He says he can only watch films and television in short clips and is frustrated that he cannot watch the news in faster speed as they are broadcast in real time. (He would find the TikTok/YouTube era to be a perfect fit for him.) He also says that he has the technology to record dreams onto video, which peaks interest for James who has a recurring dream that he doesn't remember the ending for. With his quick speaking tone yet calm demeanor, Brewster is a character that should have had more time on screen, but he does feel out of place and in the wrong movie altogether.

"Hidden City" premiered theatrically on June 24th, 1987 in the UK. It didn't seem to make any impact and had no awards nominations, quickly disappearing like the many canisters of films that this particular film showed. Considering Poliakoff's status as a writer and director would continue to grow with later productions for stage, television, and film, his first work "Hidden City" was forgotten about for a long period. While it did receive a DVD release from Film Four year back, the BFI has now given it an upgrade to Blu-ray with some new and exclusive extras.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD transfer comes from Channel Four/Film Four and there is no technical information on the presentation as to what elements were used and how it was transferred. It is a strong transfer, looking to come from the original negative, with sharp detail from the 35 elements, excellent colors and no instances of damage or wear. The dark corridors and alleyways of London at night, the brighter locations outside and indoors all look rich with the captured colors. Cinematographer Witold Stok beautifully captured the city with muted tones in realistic sequences, and great neon and filtered shots in some of the night sequences, and they look great throughout. The image has been cleaned to remove any instances of scratches or debris while also leaving the film grain intact and without any digital manipulation for a clean and filmic look. It's an absolutely pleasing looking image and a fine job with the restoration by Film Four and the transfer by the BFI.

The film's runtime is 107:39.


English LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono track is presented in uncompressed form. Dialogue is always well balanced and clear to hear against the uses of music and effects, without issues of hiss, crackle, or other damage in the track. It is well balanced and while it does not have any directional panning as it is in mono, there is good depth to the track.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font.


Audio commentary by writer/director Stephen Poliakoff and film critic Michael Brooke (2024)
This new and exclusive commentary has Poliakoff discussing the production with Brooke as the moderator. Talked about are the behind the scenes such as the opening shots of the canals, the various London locations, shooting on black and white film for the archival footage, differences between the script and the final product, the character depictions, Poliakoff casting his own daughter, Dance's 40th birthday during production and much more. Poliakoff dominates the discussion and he has a great memory of the production and fondness for the film even with its flaws as his first time in the director's seat.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Extras (with Play All) (59:22)
The following shorts and featurette can be played individually or with a "Play All" function.

"Cheese Mites" 1903 short (2:21)
This short features a man eating bread and cheese and looking into a magnifying glass to observe a colony of mites, was produced by the Charles Urban Trading Company and directed by Francis Martin Duncan. An incredibly early example of a science short, it is fascinating to think that at the time there would have been few chances for the average person to see such a sight of something captured under a microscope, let alone magnified onto a giant screen. The short is in black and white, and the image is fairly good with the expected scratches and debris to be found. It is accompanied by the ambient piano based music track "April" by Kai Engel. The short is available to watch for free on the BFI Player. In addition it is available on the BFI's YouTube channel and has been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0 stereo without subtitles

"Barging Through London" 1924 short (11:11)
Produced by Graham-Wilcox Films, this short has the camera capture London's canals, traveling through and showing the details of the bustling city from the waterways. The short is sepia tinted, and shows some signs of damage but is in quite good condition. The piano music score is performed by John Sweeney, which was commissioned for the film's release on DVD with the BFI'S "Wonderful London" from 2012. The short is available to watch for free on the BFI Player.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0 stereo without subtitles

"Hop Gardens of Kent" 1933 short (6:58)
This short produced by the GPO Film Unit shows the work of hop picking for brewing in Kent with the workers and culminating with the drinking of delicious beer. The black and white image has its share of speckles and other damage marks, but looks fairly good overall. The music accompaniment is "And It Is There, in Those Depths" by Chris Zabriskie. The short is available to watch for free on the BFI Player.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"The City: A Film Talk by Sir Charles Bressey" 1939 short (19:06)
This narrated documentary short by the GPO Film Unit features narration by Herbert Hodge and comments from Sir Charles Bressey on the efficient engineering of the city of London, centering on the underground tunnels in use, with the automated mail trains and more. The short has excellent greyscale, but there are a number of visible damage marks to be found. As for the sound, the narration is fair, though there is a slight buzz in the audio track.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with optional English HoH subtitles

"Shown by Request" 1947 short (18:55)
This short features the work of delivering films to remote places across the country for exhibition purposes, using a mobile van and setting up screenings for places without cinemas. There is also information on curating of films and the technicians that take care of film materials, which is something just as important in the modern day. The short is available to watch for free on the BFI Player.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with optional English HoH subtitles

"Inside the BFI National Archive" 2023 featurette (0:49)
Presented here is a short that the BFI produced for the 2023 Film on Film Festival, showcasing their archive and the work that is done in an all too short featurette. It has also been embedded below, courtesy of the BFI.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with optional English HoH subtitles

A 32 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is "A Voyage Under London" written by Stephen Poliakoff in 1988 and originally published in 1989's "She’s Been Away/Hidden City", with Poliakoff discussing the behind the scenes of the production. Next is an essay on "Hidden City" by writer/producer/professor John Wyver on where the film stands alongside other conspiracy thrillers of the period. Then there is "For the Record" by Sarah Castagnetti and Patrick Russell on the film's use of archival films and their importance. Next there is "Windows into the Past", which is a new interview with Poliakoff from a conversation with Michael Brooke, including working with Film Four, his experience as a first time director, and more. Interestingly there is a lot of information here that is not repeated in the commentary track. There are also special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills. Interestingly film credits are not printed here, which the BFI tends to almost always do for their booklets.

This BFI release presents the film on Blu-ray for a worldwide first. It was previously released on DVD by Film Four in the UK, which we do not have concrete specs for, but according to listings online, it includes two short films: "Chrono-perambulator""Closed Circuit" (1989) as bonus features.


"Hidden City" has a number of good ideas within, but the plot is a bit contrived and the characters do not seem to work together very well. The BFI's Blu-ray has a great transfer with the image and sound, as well as having a great set of extras. The film may have its flaws, but it still comes as recommended.

Amazon UK link

BFI Shop link

BFI Player link (rental)

The Film: C- Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B-


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