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Robinson in Space

Patrick Keiller
82mins Colour 35mm

Robinson in Space

Robinson in Space is a study of England's economic and cultural geography suggested by Daniel Defoe's Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, in which an unseen 'researcher' Robinson is commissioned by 'a well-known international advertising agency' to undertake a study of the 'problem' of England. It is not stated in the film what this problem is, but there are images of Eton, Oxford and Cambridge, some ports and a lot of factories, and a few references to sex.

Robinson quotes Oscar Wilde: 'It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible....' Accompanied (as in the earlier London) by the film's similarly unseen narrator (the voice of Paul Scofield), he embarks on a series of journeys. They look at English anachronism, at English culture and its absences, at English dilapidation, and at the industrial economy. Robinson sets out with assumptions about economic failure, especially in manufacturing industry, which are gradually challenged by the discovery of an industrial economy that employs few people but still generates most of the wealth of the fifth largest economy in the world. The UK's impoverished, dilapidated appearance is not the result of economic decline, but of the exercise of political power; the 'provincial' feel of England belies the UK's status as one of the most internationalised and deregulated economies in the developed world.

Robinson in Space was adapted and extended as a book published by Reaktion in 1999 (

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