By Eliza Parr
When I watched Joanna Hogg’s 2019 film The Souvenir for the first time, it stopped me in my tracks. I found its depiction of a first, painful love — and the way it captured the evolution of an artist’s voice — beautiful and sensitive, and the film lingered with me long afterwards. It was not that these feelings were familiar to me: I’m not a film student, I’m not dating an older, manipulative man and, of course, I’m not living in the early eighties. In fact, I have little in common with the film’s central character, Julie. We are just both young women, living in London, trying to make it work.
Julie, played by Honor Swinton Byrne (main picture, above), lives in a duplex flat with two bedrooms on its ground floor, one of which is sublet. Her own bedroom is covered in a metallic wallpaper that clashes with a giant, ornate golden headboard. On the second floor, a slim galley kitchen is separated from the open-plan living and dining room by a wall covered in square mirrored tiles. Her desk sits under the window, where she writes her screenplay looking out over Knightsbridge.
The flat is spacious for one person, mostly simple and in places quite unattractive. This makes sense for Julie, who lives here courtesy of her parents. While Julie develops her own distinct directorial style at film school, she has little interest in cultivating an interior style at home. She is simply able to exist here, unencumbered by the common hurdles of being a 20-something hustling in the big city.
I’m obsessed with the small details of this flat, even the tasteless ones. Although she lacks an eye for design, Julie has the rare luxury of a secure London space. The flat isn’t cramped or damp-ridden and her landlords are her doting parents. There’s a lot of natural light and she apparently gets some say over whether she needs a housemate or not.
Throughout the film, Julie straddles childhood and adulthood, maintaining her own home while lacking financial independence. Yet the flat, which is modelled on director Joanna Hogg’s own student pad, gives her a safe space to grow, navigate a relationship and find her voice as a film-maker.
The apartment feels both completely ordinary and completely unattainable in the London of 2023. I don’t want Julie’s exact flat — well, perhaps if it was picked up and dropped in east London, with some more art on the walls and a lot more colour. Her wall of mirrors looks great but I’d probably knock through to bring the kitchen into the main room. And as impressive as it is, the grand golden bed frame would also have to go.
Design choices aside, Julie’s flat is a fantasy because I like to imagine myself some day confidently owning a place like this: a space from which I will nurture my career, my friendships, my relationship — and myself.
Photography: Landmark Media/Alamy