The Spatial Politics of the Voice in Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins (2010)

Paul Newland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Downloads (Pure)


This article engages with the ways in which Vanessa Redgrave’s voice-over operates in spatial terms in Patrick Keiller’s film Robinson in Ruins. It argues that through a combination of omniscient authority, self-reflexive irony, and the mannered vocal performance of the role of a fictional character, Redgrave’s voice-over ultimately evokes an uncontainable presence. Writers such as Michel Chion and Mary Ann Doane have considered film voice-overs as ‘disembodied’ phenomena, but the paper demonstrates that the fluid play of presence and absence in Redgrave’s disembodied voice-over in Robinson in Ruins – but also the grain of this voice, its performative qualities, and its evident display of traces of an enduring star persona – informs, in very complex ways, the free and open concept of place and spatiality that the film explores and articulates. Through its recounting of Robinson’s story, its setting out of innumerable historical facts, and its focus on off-screen as well as on-screen images, Redgrave’s fluid voice-over constructs a complex, highly politicized sound territory; a shifting sonic space referred to below as a phonotope. By exploring this example in detail one can show how we might benefit from paying attention to the spatial properties of voices on film, by drawing, in particular, on insights drawn from cultural geography.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-142
JournalNew Soundtrack
Issue number2
Early online date01 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2016


  • Voice
  • Voice Over
  • Patrick Keiller
  • Soundtrack
  • Vanessa Redgrave
  • Place
  • Spatiality
  • Robinson in Ruins


Dive into the research topics of 'The Spatial Politics of the Voice in Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins (2010)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this