Your first London night bus is something of a baptism of fire, sharing the midnight hour with an often staggering cross section of society, forced above ground after the last tube has departed as we make our way home across the city. My personal highlights include having to give a fellow passenger an impromptu lap-dance on Holloway Road as I clambered over a sleeping man or joining a collective act of contortion to avoid a cascade of vomit from a Camden reveller, which proceeded to make its way down the aisle to a fool sleeping in the wheelchair area. It is always an adventure, sometimes one through Sodom and Gomorrah, and sometimes something more emotional.
We’ve hooked up, been dumped, cried, laughed and screamed on night buses, a mobile soap opera where we think no one is listening, too consumed in their own evening’s dramas. But in Simon Baker’s debut feature, Night Bus, we’re invited to eavesdrop on the lot in a tightly narrative journey as we follow a group of unconnected strangers brought together by the perils of a London night bus over one night.
Featuring a cast of unknowns and filmed on micro-budget of only £20,000, Night Bus is undoubtedly gritty in its making and its content but simultaneously this approach lends itself to the authenticity of that night bus charm. We have a pair of youths, blasting out the new Drake song, laughing at an inebriated girl who just wants to join the party, a group of city workers on the way home from post-work drinks, sisters struggling with family troubles, old friends realising they aren’t perhaps as close friends as they once were, a new couple, an old couple, a marriage in breakdown, a woman in breakdown, a couple in animal onesies and two very drunk Polish gents. It’s a scene that when written down looks frankly ridiculous but in reality, a sight that is all too familiar for a Londoner. And this is where Baker’s film excels at embracing the despairing recognition we have and of course the relief that it’s not us sitting next to that person…
Realigned by time, Baker lets us follow each character’s journey, capturing the city’s diversity with only slight plays to the inevitable stereotypes, offering brief snippets of their lives they share with strangers on that bus journey. Perhaps next time you have that late night phone call or argument or want to make a new friend on the bus, remember you never know who might be listening in. London through and through, a fun homage to the strange strangers we meet every time we ride the night bus.
Night Bus is screening on Sunday 12 October (Curzon Soho), Wednesday 15 October (Rich Mix) and Saturday 18 October (BFI Southbank).
View the full festival programme online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff