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Tales of Three Cities—Books and Movies about London, Paris and Rome

July 8, 2014 James Glavin No Comments

Nothing gets us more excited about travel than reading a good book or watching a film where a destination is brought vividly to life. In many great works of literature or cinema, the location is as important a character as the main protagonists.

We’ve taken three of our most popular city destinations—London, Paris and Rome—which have been particularly inspirational to writers and filmakers, and have chosen five movies and three books set in these characterful capitals. We hope the movies and books on the list will whet your appetite to go and visit them for yourself.

Did we miss any movies or books that you would have added to the list? Tell us in the comments below.


  • Movies

The Long Good Friday—1980 (Rated R)
This classic gangster flick gave Bob Hoskins his breakthrough film role, and paints a vivid picture of London’s underworld at the dawn of the greed-is-good 1980s.

An American Werewolf in London—1981 (Rated R)
John Landis’s cult comedy/horror film tells the tale of two young American backpackers on a howling adventure on the Yorkshire moors and in the streets (and underground system) of London.

Shakespeare in Love—1998 (Rated R)
Set in London in the late 16th century, this is an entertaining speculation about a love affair that inspired Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) to write Romeo and Juliet. Judi Dench’s performance as Elizabeth I earned her an Academy Award.

Notting Hill—1999 (Rated PG-13)
Richard Curtis’s film will not give you a strictly accurate portrayal of life in the capital (see also Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually), but it’s an enjoyable romp through the titular west London district nonetheless.

Skyfall—2012 (Rated PG-13)
Many Bond films feature glimpses of London, but Skyfall has some of the best actions sequences ever to be filmed in the capital. From high adrenalin chases through the underground, to sweeping vistas of London’s skyline—this film has it all.

  • Books

Oliver Twist—Charles Dickens (1838)
Arguably Dickens’ best loved work, his second novel (and the films and musicals it inspired) takes readers on a journey through the underbelly of early Victorian London.

Letters from London—Julian Barnes (1995)
This collection of dispatches written for the New Yorker attempts to explain the quirks of English life to Americans.

Brick Lane—Monica Ali (2003)
Ali’s debut novel brings to life the multi-cultural world surrounding the East End’s Brick Lane, in vivid, colorful detail.


  • Movies

Amélie—2001 (Rated R)
The magical story of a Montmartre waitress (Audrey Tautou) who sets out on a mission around Paris to make others happy.

Before Sunset—2004 (Rated R)
The sequel to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, this film does for Paris what the original film did for Vienna. Main characters Jesse and Celine meet after nine years apart, and spend the day reconnecting and wandering through Paris.

Paris, Je T’aime—2006 (Rated R)
This anthology of short films, each set in a different arrondissement of the city, is a varied and engaging tribute to the city.

La Vie en Rose—2007 (Rated PG-13)
Marion Cotillard won an Academy Award for her role in this biographical musical film about the life of French singer Édith Piaf.

Midnight in Paris—2011 (Rated PG-13)
Woody Allen’s romantic comedy uses the beauty of Paris to full effect. From the very start—an opening montage of Paris’s iconic sights—you’ll be enchanted by this magical movie.

  • Books

The Hunchback of Notre Dame—Victor Hugo (1831)
Three extraordinary characters are caught in a web of fatal obsession. France’s most celebrated Romantic, Victor Hugo, vividly depicts medieval Paris, where all life is dominated by the massive cathedral.

A Moveable Feast—Ernest Hemingway (1964)
Memoirs of Hemingway’s life amidst the American expatriate circle of writers in Paris during the 1920s.

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris—Graham Robb (2010)
All Parisian life is contained in this study of the City of Light from 1750 to the present, focusing on the characters that have shaped this city and made it so unique.


  • Movies

Roman Holiday—1953 (Unrated)
The charming Audrey Hepburn plays a European princess on an official tour through Rome who finds romance with a cynical expatriate American reporter (Gergory Peck).

La Dolce Vita—1960 (Unrated)
Director Federico Fellini’s portrait of a hedonistic Rome centers on a handsome journalist in constant pursuit of the extravagant, the sensational and the absurd.

Gladiator—2000 (Rated R)
Ridley Scott’s ‘sword-and-sandals’ epic brings ancient Rome to life, in particular the epic and bloody combats that took place in the Colosseum.

To Rome with Love—2012 (Rated R)
Woody Allen brings together four unconnected stories, to explore the lives, adventures, and romantic complications of the residents of and visitors to the Eternal City.

La Grande BellezzaThe Great Beauty, 2013 (Unrated)
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the film introduces the audience to Rome’s extravagant nightlife and the characters who inhabit the city’s ruins and streets.

  • Books

I, Claudius—Robert Graves (1934)
Considered a masterpiece of historical fiction, Graves’s ‘autobiography’ of the Roman Emperor Claudius provides a fascinating portrayal of Roman history and politics.

When in Rome—Ngaio Marsh (1970)
As well as being an intriguing detective story, this novel provides intricate details of Rome as seen from the point of view of a group of English-speaking tourists.

Angels and Demons—Dan Brown (2000)
The bestselling novel about the battle between the Vatican and an ancient secret brotherhood, the Illuminati, follows Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon on a race around Rome’s most famous monuments.


James Glavin

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