Robinson in Ruins offers playful commentary on state of the nation - Patrick Keiller profile

Robinson in Ruins offers playful commentary on state of the nation - Patrick Keiller profile

'As the 2008 banking crisis unfolded, the film gained a very specific context.'

Patrick Keiller.

Blackpool, England, 1950

A graduate of art and architecture, Keiller was inspired to make films by Chris Marker’s unconventional art doc, La Jetée. Keiller’s films, beginning with the 1981 short Stonebridge Park and continuing with the features London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997), have been compared to early work by his contemporary Peter Greenaway. However, Keiller’s use of subjective camerawork, slyly witty voice-overs, free-associative ‘narrative’ and his engagement with art, economics, history, geography and sociology to produce a polemical but playful commentary on the state of the nation make his film essays absolutely unique. His latest feature is once again comprised of footage shot by Keiller’s fictional alter ego, the titular Robinson (who we never meet in the previous two films and who has now apparently disappeared for good) and narrated by the fictional ex-lover of one of Robinson’s researchers (voiced by Vanessa Redgrave).

What he’s up to now
When he’s not making a film, being a research fellow at London’s Royal College of Art.

On Robinson in Ruins
‘The film set out to question ideas about belonging to place, so it could, in theory, have been made anywhere. I started in January 2008, very near where I live, and continued until November, following a more or less elliptical circuit that never extended much beyond about thirty miles away. It turned out, however, that this small area of southern England included several sites of anti-enclosure rebellion and riot, as well as the coaching inn where the Speenhamland system of poor relief was famously devised in 1795, a key moment in the development of industrial capitalism. It also included Greenham Common, Aldermaston, the former Rocket Propulsion Establishment and what remains of the Morris car factory at Cowley (where BMW now make their Mini) all of which speak very eloquently of the role of the United States in UK foreign policy since World War Two. As the 2008 banking crisis unfolded, the film gained a very specific context.’

Interesting fact
Keiller’s previous film, a made-for-television documentary about UK housing narrated by Tilda Swinton and titled The Dilapidated Dwelling, has not been broadcast since it was completed in 2000.

Robinson in Ruins, Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 10–Mon 13 Dec.


  • 4 stars
  • 1993
  • UK
  • U
  • Directed by: Patrick Keiller

Three trips across London, taking in the city's artistic and literary heritage and rubbing it against contemporary social and political events from 1992. Presented as a fictional series of journeys, narrated by Paul Scofield, it is a poetic, brilliantly photographed, insightful take on the capital.

Robinson in Space

  • 1997
  • UK
  • 1h 22min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Patrick Keiller
  • Cast: Paul Scofield

A witty study of England's economic and cultural geography in which unseen researcher Robinson has been commissioned by an international advertising company to undertake research into the 'problem' of England.

Robinson in Ruins

  • 4 stars
  • 2010
  • UK
  • U
  • Directed by: Patrick Keiller
  • Cast: Vanessa Redgrave (narrator)

Another avant garde filmic meandering on the investigations of Keiller's mysterious 'Robinson'. This time he explores politics, the economy, and warfare in the contemporary world.

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