Mind the Gap: Tube Tales

Posted on March 14, 2012


Tube Tales was a 1999 collection of short films set on London’s Underground and based on the true stories of London’s commuters as submitted to Time Out magazine. Starring a stellar cast, and featuring directorial debuts from Ewan McGregor and Jude Law, this collection of stories aims to reflect the feelings and stories of London’s commuters. Based on New York’s Subway Stories, this film aims to reflect life this side of the pond.

Unlike many made for television movies, this collection of films is sassy, modern and slick. With cast of established and (then) up and coming actors across a spectrum of characters, pulling this off to this level of slickness is no mean feat. With the engagement of top names as directors, as well as writers who had established themselves on top 90’s shows like This Life and The Day Today, Tube Tales is full to the brim with British talent.

Most if not all of these tales have a sting or twist to their tale, as is such with stories so short. Not all of these are satisfying, but Grasshopper in particular has an amusing and particularly apt twist. Daniella Nardini only has one word in Mouth and the delivered word is such an understatement given what has just happened. Liz Smith makes a memorable cameo in Horny and Jason Fleyming delivers a memorable performance in Mr. Cool.

There is no big budget on display here, nor special effects, the stories instead rely on subtlety to make their point. The most telling thing about this collection perhaps is the lack of Oyster cards, Kindles and iPods given this was filmed a few years before these penetrated the Underground. No doubt an up-to-date Tube Tale might reflect the legions of the lonely who travel the Tube with their ears firmly plugged, or noses jammed into e-readers.

Instead, what we get is a series of character-led vignettes that reflect life in London. Fragmented, coincidental and fleeting, they provide a glimpse of the more unusual side of life on the Tube, be it a lonely man getting more flustered than he ought to, or fantasies to pass the journey away or chance encounters, these stories do ape life on the Tube where life flashes before your eyes, chance moments never to be repeated. What is clear is that through all the relentless shots of moving Tube trains for all that goes on around the Tube, life goes on, the trains keep on moving and things just keep on happening.

The Underground, to my surprise, is merely a cipher for the stories, it rarely really feels like a character in its own right except in Horny where the grind of the carriage on the track is used to a very apt effect. It also becomes a deliciously surreal Prisoner-style playground for a lost young girl in Rosebud.

For me, the stand out of these tales is Jude Law directed A Bird in the Hand where a bird loose on a Tube carriage crashes into a window before an elderly man sets it free. The bird is a nice metaphor for all of us, flapping around trapped within the system. Alan Miller gives an excellent performance as the elderly man. Without saying too much, but the terrifically moving Steal Away is a must see as well.

Much like the Tube itself, it is difficult to quantify this set of stories. Some are funny, others are melancholy, some are all too real. They all share little dialogue within them, atypical of a journey on the system. The sheer volume of talent, and obvious enthusiasm for the project outweighs the fact the stories aren’t interlinked other than through being set in or around the Tube. In terms of capturing the flavour of life above and below London’s famous lines, The Fiction Stroker gives Tube Tales five strokes out of five:

Tube Tales can be viewed online via their Youtube account here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v16zavtvhrA&feature=channel

Also in the Mind the Gap season: Three and OutConfessions from the Underground –253 – Five Stop StoriesThe Tube

Posted in: Film