One New Change: a review

Is London ready for Jean Nouvel's new City shopping centre?

One New Change: three seemingly simple words, the street address in fact, though one can almost feel the agonising and painstaking thought (and thousands of pounds) that must have gone into choosing the name from (and to) countless PR, marketing and branding types, underneath this thin veneer of nominal simplicity. Or maybe, in it's ready made corporate splendor, "One New Change" suited Land Secruties, the developers of the mixed use complex, just fine? It couldn't be any better really, with its tripartite, sculpted, production line, Cameroonian sleekness.

The City's new shopping mall by Jean Nouvel (his first permanent building in the UK) is a sleek, grey-brown burnished glass consumerist leviathan, full of sharp cantilevered edges and snide geometric tricks which mask its vastness. Unquestionably not in the same league as Nouvel's most celebrated creations - the Fondation Cartier and Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris - One New Change seems to bear a greater resemblance to Nouvel's temporary Serpentine pavilion, which opened this summer, with its similar minimalist slices of red metal juxtaposed against one another.

The basic plan of the building is centred on a hexagonal atrium, where the lift shaft is, and spans out on four sides, leading into open "streets" which go into the adjacent roads and squares. This is clearly an attempt to tie the building into the City's heritage, to present the mall as a sort of post-modern Leadenhall market, if you will (hopefully we will not).

Nouvel is more explicit about his desire to build within the architectural strictures of the City when commenting on what is undoubtedly the project's aesthetic coup de théâtre: the roof terrace, with its spectacular view of Wren's masterpiece of the English baroque, St Paul's. Rather than try and challenge the cathedral architecturally (an absurd idea, as any architect would know), Nouvel admits that he has purposefully made sure "the design is calm and deferential to St Paul's". It's a decision that's more than vindicated by the result, which is not just the finest view of St Paul's above street level, available gratis (for the moment at least), but one of the most thrilling panoramas of London's skyline to be seen anywhere. From the terrace, one can see the Barbican, Renzo Piano's unfinished Shard, City Hall, Southwark cathedral and, appropriately for a work that claims deference as one of its selling points, a good spattering of Wren and Hawksmoor's City churches.

When it comes to the interior, the only things of note, in amongst the polished marble and stainless steel railings and the touch screen guides to the building, is that the shops here are more of the Topshop and Office variety than the Dior or Louis Vuitton of Shepherd's Bush's Westfield. This is no doubt the result of well informed market research carried out at the behest of Land Securities, who have backed One New Change to the pretty tune of £500 million, and judging by the fact that they have already let almost every available retail space in the building they are probably right.

The press have, unsurprisingly, been rather mixed in their reaction to what the promotional website calls "London's newest shopping destination". The Evening Standard breathlessly called it "the most tangible sign yet that the economic recovery is underway", but Jonathan Glancey, the Guardian's architectural critic, accused Nouvel of "robbing the City of what passes for its soul". Glancey is almost certainly right, but either way I suggest you get up to the roof terrace and see what may be the best view of St Paul's in London whilst it's still free.

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Women on the edge: new films Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women

With their claustrophobic close-ups and desolate wide shots, both films are stunning portraits of life on the brink.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Christine Chubbuck may not have had much in common in real life – the former briefly the US first lady, the latter a put-upon television news reporter in the early 1970s in Sarasota, Florida – but two new films named after them are cut resolutely from the same cloth. Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women in which the claustrophobic close-up and the desolate wide shot are the predominant forms of address.

Both films hinge on fatal gunshots to the head and both seek to express cinematically a state of mind that is internal: grief and loss in Jackie, which is set mainly in the hours and days after the assassination of President John F Kennedy; depression and paranoia in Christine. In this area, they rely heavily not only on hypnotically controlled performances from their lead actors but on music that describes the psychological contours of distress.

Even before we see anything in Jackie, we hear plunging chords like a string section falling down a lift shaft. This is the unmistakable work of the abrasive art rocker Mica Levi. Her score in Jackie closes in on the ears just as the tight compositions by the cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine exclude the majority of the outside world. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín knows a thing or two about sustaining intensity, as viewers of his earlier work, including his Pinochet-era trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No), will attest. Though this is his first English-language film, there is no hint of any softening. The picture will frustrate anyone hoping for a panoramic historical drama, with Larraín and the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim irising intently in on Jackie, played with brittle calm by Natalie Portman, and finding the nation’s woes reflected in her face.

Bit-players come and go as the film jumbles up the past and present, the personal and political. A journalist (Billy Crudup), nameless but based on Theodore White, arrives to interview the widow. Her social secretary, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), urges her on with cheerleading smiles during the shooting of a stiff promotional film intended to present her warmly to the public. Her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) hovers anxiously nearby as she negotiates the chasm between private grief and public composure. For all the bustle around her, the film insists on Jackie’s aloneness and Portman gives a performance in which there is as much tantalisingly concealed as fearlessly exposed.

A different sort of unravelling occurs in Christine. Antonio Campos’s film begins by showing Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) seated next to a large box marked “fragile” as she interviews on camera an empty chair in which she imagines Richard Nixon to be sitting. She asks of the invisible president: “Is it paranoia if everyone is indeed coming after you?” It’s a good question and one that she doesn’t have the self-awareness to ask herself. Pressured by her editor to chase juicy stories, she goes to sleep each night with a police scanner blaring in her ears. She pleads with a local cop for stories about the darker side of Sarasota, scarcely comprehending that the real darkness lies primarily within her.

For all the shots of TV monitors displaying multiple images of Christine in this beige 1970s hell, the film doesn’t blame the sensationalist nature of the media for her fractured state. Nor does it attribute her downfall entirely to the era’s sexism. Yet both of those things exacerbated problems that Chubbuck already had. She is rigid and off-putting, all severe straight lines, from her haircut and eyebrows to the crossed arms and tight, unsmiling lips that make it difficult for anyone to get close to her. That the film does break through is down to Hall, who illuminates the pain that Christine can’t express, and to the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s perky enough on the surface but there are cellos sawing away sadly underneath. If you listen hard enough, they’re crying: “Help.” 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era