It’s tough to watch Postcards from London and not be slightly confused by the road that Jim (Harris Dickinson), a young boy from Essex looking to find mystery and adventure in London, ends up taking to find meaning in his life. Not because of the choices he makes himself, but because the world of Postcards is so surreal that you’ll need to adjust slightly as you go in. Sliding transitions, black backdrops, noir lighting and repeat locations all capture the feeling of being front row in a play. Just as Jim falls into a world of back alleys and secret art galleries he doesn’t quite understand at first, you’ll spend the hour and a half watching Postcards with a slightly giddy feeling that everything you’re seeing is being played out just for you.
There are many films that tell the story of young men and women falling into sex work as they struggle to make it in a big city, but in Postcards, art and culture casts just as much of a seductive spell. For Jim, art is synonymous with sex – everything it offers (money, power, fame) and the consequences if it’s pursued at the expense of everything else in life. As Jim embarks on his new career as a prostitute, and ‘muse’ later on, he struggles to keep his emotions separate from his work. The crux comes when he becomes unable to separate himself from beautiful pieces of art: literally seeing himself in the paintings and taking on all the pain and suffering that went into them. The struggle that goes into creating something truly meaningful is a constant. How much pain is worth it? And is being a muse to a masterpiece just as meaningful as being the artist?
From early on, it’s easy to start thinking of Jim’s story as more of a fairytale. The easiest comparison to make is Alice in Wonderland: if Alice was a gay sex worker, the Cheshire cat was a chorus of ageless rent boys, and falling down the rabbit hole was equal to a series of encounters with famous artists through history, and sex games with culturally starved Johns. The dialogue and banter between characters doesn’t make it any easier to take them seriously. I can’t imagine it was written with realism in mind (I really struggled to find one instance where someone spoke like a human being in the real world) but it’s also consistent enough that if you’re enjoying it five minutes in, you’ll enjoy it until the end.
The Australian premiere of Postcards from London is this Saturday 17 March as part of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.