London Framed: Layer Cake (2004)
In 2004, the British gangster film Layer Cake was released with Daniel Craig making the case to become the next 007. Giving it away was Craig's role as an unnamed, smooth talking and smart thinking man living in the underworld. Full of suspense and one-liners, the film didn’t achieve much in the way of commercial success but it has emerged as something of a cult London classic. It juxtaposes London's more grandiose establishments against its more run down sides, and in his second piece for Kirk Originals Charlie Thomas takes you on a tour through the films locations.
Daniel Craig playing a London-based, smooth talking protagonist who’s as sharply-dressed as he is quick-witted? Has to be Bond, you’d think. Nope. He did the whole gun-wielding, women-seducing thing first in Layer Cake, the 2004 gangster film which came out two years before he inherited Double O-status in Casino Royale. Layer Cake is Craig’s precursor to Bond, and perhaps the film that secured him the job of his life, whether he now enjoys it or not.
The similarities don’t stop there. Like the Bond films, Layer Cake makes excellent use of London as a setting. It portrays the city as it was in the early 2000s; stylish, rich and still under construction, with a spare half-built skyscraper or two freely available for dangling people off the edge. It’s a very different place to the London of The Long Good Friday, a film previously discussed in this series. We see a more polished city, with everything that was aspirational during the decade of the new millennium; VIP sections in expensive nightclubs, fast cars and luxury (St Martins Lane) hotel rooms with views over the skyline.
Craig’s character, a successful cocaine dealer who remains unnamed through, lives at 7 Queen’s Gate Mews in Kensington, opposite the Queen’s Arms pub. His place is incredibly stylish, kitted out in a modern, minimal style that has aged well, considering the early 2000s’ potential for gaudiness. Side note: then, as now, mews houses are some of the most sought after in London, but it wasn’t always this way. Many were built in the 18th century as servant’s quarters and stables for the grand townhouses they served. Keep this in mind next time you come across a mews in London - chances are they served the larger Edwardian and Victorian properties that almost always back on to them.
So, our lead has taste, and this is reflected in where he chooses to eat. He visits The Regency Cafe in Victoria with his associate Morty, a place that’s revered as one of London’s best and most original greasy spoons. It’s throwback plastic-chaired and tiled-walled interior is perfect British gangster film territory, harking back to the 1950s and ‘60s and the age of the Kray Twins, the latter of which makes more sense as the scene plays out.
Use of places such as this, as well as the docklands area of London and vast warehouses in which illicit meetings take place, subtly references British gangster films of days gone by, without being too cliche. Yes, there are a number of shots of Canary Wharf in the film, perhaps a hint at the excess and quick rise of the protagonists - the view from the Royal Observatory is used repeatedly. But there isn’t another notable shot of a world famous London landmark. We get a small glimpse of St Paul’s Cathedral, but that’s it.
London instead sets the scene in a more organic way - we see opulent interiors such as when Craig meets Eddie Temple in the library of the Athenaeum Club on Pall Mall; nondescript city streets which Craig walks down between meetings, and a corner letting agency, a familiar site in every London borough. It’s at this point Craig wears arguably the film’s coolest look - a black trench coat, a grey T-shirt over jeans and a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses - as he strolls through the agency’s doors.
All of this combined - the setting, the style, the twists and turns, the snappy dialogue and beautiful cinematography makes Layer Cake a modern classic. It’s all too easy to reference its older forebears when citing the British gangster genre, but the film deserves a place at the top of the pyramid, even if Craig’s cocksure character never quite makes the top step.
– By Charlie Thomas
Did you know that many of our frames, including the entire Optical collection, are named after streets and locations near our HQ in Blackfriars, London? It shouldn’t come as a surprise as we are a London brand, after all. A few frames have been given the sunglass treatment for SS21, such as Creed Sun, available in ebony and dark havana, and Bridewell Sun, also available in ebony and dark havana. If you have any questions about prescription lenses, there’s information on the product page. Alternatively, you can get in touch with us by emailing email@example.com.
You can explore the full collection, here.