. . .Breaking and Entering is a picture of two utterly different worlds that overlap in place, but not in time. By day Law's office, set in the midst of the vast redevelopment site that is King's Cross, hums with the comfortable sense of entitlement of middle-class creatives. But at night it is overtaken by Nigerian cleaners and Kosovan crack dealers, who keep coming back to steal his computers.
Minghella's film is a timely reminder of how these two urban worlds depend on each other. But the conventional response of planners is to try to sweep the dark underbelly of the city away. To do that is to risk the collateral damage that will destroy the very qualities that make a city work. It attempts to turn a city into a village, which is no place for the disposed and the ambitious, desperate to escape from poverty.
The area known as the King's Cross railway lands is a gash in London's fabric that has never healed since the canals and railways tore into it at the start of the 19th century. It reflects the reality of city life in the most brutal and extreme form. Hookers and addicts share the pavements with commuters, skirting the vast swathe of canals and sheds trapped between the Euston Road and the residential streets of Camden Town. King's Cross is currently undergoing a paroxysm of development that irresistibly recalls the feverish transformation of this very piece of land portrayed by Charles Dickens in Dombey and Son
Dickens captured the surrealistic dislocation of houses left stranded by railway embankments, and roads that lead nowhere. Almost the same thing is happening again. The huge glass and white steel box awkwardly tacked on to the back of Victorian St Pancras, designed to handle the high-speed rail link to Paris and Brussels, is nearing completion. The new station represents a construction project on a scale that matches that of the Victorians - if not their confidence, or their architectural ambition. Negotiating the area, you thread your way through new viaducts that erupt from the mud, past tower cranes and ancient warehouses and gasometers. The landscape is by turns pastoral and derelict.
Breaking and Entering is a powerful portrait of urban life as it really is. But it is already something of a period piece. Minghella has captured the last days of a King's Cross that is already passing. Planning permission was last week granted for a massive redevelopment of an area larger than Canary Wharf that will complete what the new channel tunnel rail link has started. The gash in London's fabric will finally be healed.
The plans for the new King's Cross are the product of an architectural team that includes both mainstream modernists Allies and Morrison, and the architectural fundamentalist Demetri Porphyrios. They are an unlikely pair. Porphyrios is best known for building authentic gothic university buildings, such as the Magdalen College Grove Quadrangle in Oxford, in solid, load-bearing stone. Allies and Morrison design polite glass and steel offices for the BBC. The project is being led by Argent, a company run by Roger Madelin, a developer with a penchant for motorcycle jackets. He worked with the same architects on the Brindley Place area of Birmingham, where they stitched together canalside warehouses with a mix of offices, shops and cafes that carefully avoids iconic statements or grand gestures. After six years of work by Madelin and his team, Camden Council has said yes to a scheme that takes a very similar approach. All it needs now is Ken Livingstone's approval.
Even though it's hard to see much of a future here for Minghella's Kosovans, it's difficult to argue with the mix of uses that Argent has in mind. One area will be devoted to corporate offices. A cultural zone will have the new Central St Martins school of art as its focus, while the northern part of the site will be devoted to housing. Less convincing is the form of the scheme that combines dense urban blocks with disappointing piazzas and parades that do their best to pretend that this is a slice of traditional city, rather than the massive transformation that it really is.
Argent's architects are apparently driven by the belief that London is a gently haphazard city that has always grown in fits and starts, and avoided the grand gesture. That is a misreading of London which despite its reputation for informality, has usually been able to rise to an occasion. John Nash's Regent's Park was heroic enough to inspire Napoleon III to remodel Paris, just as it was the London Underground that once set the pace for the Paris metro. It's hard not to feel a certain regret that the last attempt to redevelop the same plot of King's Cross land - a huge, oval green the size of Regent's Park and ringed by skyscrapers, was killed off by the 1990s property crash.
In the last quarter of a century, London has got out of the habit of seeing that such bold strategies are possible. As it is now, King's Cross is a mud-splattered, anarchic mess that reveals the shifting tectonic plates of urban life. The new King's Cross that Argent is planning will be a polite, comfortable place for commuters to drink latte on their way from the train to the office. But a city in the sense that Jude Law's tormented character would understand, it will never be...