Film Review: Postcards from London

Art and sex—but way too much of the former—are featured in a whimsical but retrograde gay concoction, unduly influenced by the work of Derek Jarman.
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In director Steve McLean’s ode to the twin obsessions of gay culture—sex and art—working-class lad Jim (Harris Dickinson) moves to London and, after some knockabout experiences on the street, encounters the Raconteurs, a cadre of male prostitutes who, along with sex, offer scintillating postcoital repartee with the kind of older, wealthy and urbane clients who desire more than the usual blow-and-go. All the while, Jim immerses himself in the work of great gay artists like Caravaggio and Francis Bacon, reveling in their florid imagery as well as their tempestuous lives.

Indeed, although he suffers from Stendahl Syndrome, a condition in which the beauty of great art induces a kind of overwhelming ecstasy that can cause unconsciousness, Jim actually becomes entirely enveloped in a hallucinatory way in the paintings themselves, with McLean costuming and restaging immortal canvas groupings in a manner that screams a slightly lower-budget Derek Jarman. McLean’s slack sense of pacing is another quality he shares with Jarman, a director whose work was often so inert—while visually gorgeous—that I have always found the adulation of him a mystery. The director also blatantly steals from Godard, reprising his famous Madison dance sequence from Bande a part, involving Jim and the boys, who come across as the coldest of customers. Nevertheless, our hero has bonded with them.

It’s all very twee stuff, and although Dickinson is a more-than-game trouper and, like the other actors, quite comely, Postcards from London is heavy on the chatter but light on the sex. The cautionary message, to young gays especially, seems here to be “There’s more to life than narcissistic mirror-peering, the gym and boffing boys, boys.” Some of the visual compositions are impressive to look at, but the overall self-consciousness of the enterprise, paltry attempts at wit such as describing Bacon as “a screaming queen who painted the screaming Pope,” and basic thinness of this wistfully wish-fulfilment material make it hard for a viewer to stay involved. All too often, as well, it veers into the hoary stereotype of the acidulous, haughty older gay vs. the hot and loutish young stud muffin, which was old back when Tennessee Williams daringly tweaked such stuff to big success on Broadway.