Fly Through 17th-Century London’s Gritty Streets with Prize-Winning Animations

Crit­ics did not love 2004 film The Lib­er­tine, star­ring John­ny Depp as dis­solute 17th cen­tu­ry poet and court favorite John Wilmot, the sec­ond Earl of Rochester. The Guardian fault­ed its grim tone and his­tor­i­cal inac­cu­ra­cies and called it “grimy and pre­ten­tious.” I dis­agree with this take, but a fond­ness for Rochester (and for the peri­od in gen­er­al) bias­es me in the movie’s favor. Addi­tion­al­ly, as some admir­ing crit­ics point­ed out, dour script­ing aside, the film’s depic­tion of 17th cen­tu­ry Lon­don is indeed most con­vinc­ing. You can almost feel the muck that clings to every­thing, and smell the rank stench of body odor bare­ly cov­ered by per­fume. Writer Kather­ine Ashen­burg has called the 17th cen­tu­ry “prob­a­bly the dirt­i­est cen­tu­ry in West­ern his­to­ry” (Lon­don didn’t clean up for anoth­er cou­ple hun­dred years), and The Lib­er­tine takes pains to bring the period’s filth to vivid, stink­ing life.

Which brings us to anoth­er authen­tic recre­ation of 17th cen­tu­ry Lon­don, one we’ve fea­tured here before and that you can see again at the top of the post. Designed by six plucky stu­dents from De Mon­fort Uni­ver­si­ty, the three-minute CGI tour through the city’s sooty Tudor streets before The Great Fire of 1666 resem­bles a video game; but it also gives us a per­sua­sive sense of the city’s scale, lay­out, and, yes, it’s grim­i­ness. In our pre­vi­ous post, we quot­ed Lon­don­ist, who not­ed, “Although most of the build­ings are con­jec­tur­al, the stu­dents used a real­is­tic street pat­tern [tak­en from his­tor­i­cal maps] and even includ­ed the hang­ing signs of gen­uine inns and busi­ness­es.” Though its unsan­i­tary streets are emp­ty, one can eas­i­ly imag­ine walk­ing them in this prize-win­ning ani­ma­tion. Less invit­ing, how­ev­er, are those 17-cen­tu­ry Lon­don streets at night in anoth­er, eight-minute ani­ma­tion below, cre­at­ed by anoth­er De Mont­fort team called Tri­umphant Goat.

Bra­ziers and lanterns glow­er in dank alley­ways, a fore­bod­ing haze hangs in the night air, hand-drawn want­ed posters adorn the walls, and pools of mud­dy water col­lect among rough cob­ble­stones. Here, I can imag­ine John­ny Dep­p’s Rochester pick­ing his way along a dusky side street, head­ed for some clan­des­tine assig­na­tion with a sta­ble­boy or scullery maid. You can read about the mak­ing of this night­time scene here, where team mem­ber James Teeple dis­cuss­es the research meth­ods and tech­ni­cal objec­tives of the project, in terms that make it sound as though this is one lev­el of a video game, although it isn’t clear what the game is about. “We real­ly pushed the idea of this being a His­tor­i­cal recre­ation,” writes Teeple, “so that meant too much cre­ative license was a bad thing in our eyes.”

Final­ly, in the video below, we see a bright­ly-lit tour of St. Paul’s Cathe­dral, beau­ti­ful­ly ren­dered, if over­all a less pol­ished pre­sen­ta­tion than the two tours above. This ani­ma­tion was pre­sum­ably cre­at­ed by De Mont­fort design stu­dents as well, though there’s lit­tle infor­ma­tion on its Vimeo page. Though the city was sig­nif­i­cant­ly redesigned after the 1666 fire, in these first two ani­ma­tions espe­cial­ly, we get a sense of the city Samuel John­son described sev­en­ty years after that great con­fla­gra­tion as a place where “mal­ice, rap­ine, acci­dent, con­spire, / And now a rab­ble rages, now a fire.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Curi­ous Sto­ry of London’s First Cof­fee­hous­es (1650–1675)

A Drone’s Eye View of Los Ange­les, New York, Lon­don, Bangkok & Mex­i­co City

The Old­est Known Footage of Lon­don (1890–1920) Fea­tures the City’s Great Land­marks

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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