OK, I saw this movie only once and it was ages ago.
It is one of those that, while I didn't particularly like it, left a lasting impression.
First and foremost, it is a London movie -every bit as much as 'The Long Good Friday' (1980), 'Pool Of London' (1951) and so many more, where the city is really the star. I am a sucker for London films!
Secondly, it belongs to a loose-knit family (genre?) of films that seem to have their origins in that time (late 1980s). The principal characteristic of them is that they take the standard 'noir' elements and run them 'all the way up to 11' , until they become saturated with a nightmare sense of impending evil and conspiracy. EVERYTHING takes on a threatening aspect; each word, action, step and object becomes laden with menace. 'Defence Of The Realm'(1986) pulled off a very similar trick, as did the contemporary TV series 'Edge Of Darkness'. Into the 1990s and Noughties this kind of 'X-Files Paranoia' thing became more prolific, for example 'The Forgotten'(2004).
However, that vibe is something that Poliakoff was trading in long before then: his TV play 'Caught On A Train' (1980) nicely exemplifies it. Maybe he started it all!
That said, 'Hidden City' doesn't come off all that well. I think the problem is chiefly with the casting, and the rather soft drawing of the central characters. I can't really believe Charles Dance as academic turned-action hero (Islington Jones?), capable actor though he is it seems a daft way to go, and at odds with the rest of the thing. The gimmick of weighing him down with the stereotypical 'feisty single mum and infant' combo in tow adds another surreal touch to the melodrama, one that could have sprung from the iBook of Doris Lessing on an average day (and I can't help thinking that she may have done a better job here).
The plot is an absolute mess. Set in the (1980s) present, It concerns Dance's character being led a merry erm, dance piecing together the story of some obscure government conspiracy that occurred just after WWII. The only evidence of this exists in perplexing bits of 'extra' footage at the end of various ancient Public Information Film reels. No sweat, then!
Time-worn hazards and difficulties are then laid on with a trowel: sinister spook-types, obstructive officials, characters whose sole purpose seems to be as unnecessarily cryptic as possible: all the usual suspects.
After much too long, he produces a worrying jig-saw of a top-secret (presumably nuclear) project going badly pear-shaped, and the bizarre extent to which the powers that be (or were) resorted to in burying the truth along with the casualties. And anyone who had anything to do with them. And anyone who had anything to do with anyone...you see where this is going.
You could file this under 'deservedly overlooked', but there are some very fine scenes: Bill Paterson (always good value), having a superbly unreal conversation with Dance while a disturbing shadow-show plays out on the opaque room-divider behind him, is delightful ("...I think that's so-and-so...") so by all means have a look.
Best not dwell on any underlying diatribe about the nature and corrupting power of secrets, the celluloid image, or the sad fact that history is whatever 'they' want it to be. That is all plastered over as effectively as the remains of 'Project Magnificat', and just as ill- fated.
Finally, there is what I assume to be a little twist-ette right at the very end, where the ancient footage Dance has been analysing briefly reveals the face of the cameraman: Jumpin' Crickets, he look just like Adolf Hitler! Go figure...
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