London Road

The citizens of London Road will talk-sing their way to a brighter tomorrow!

london rd

In 2006, in different locations across Ipswich and over a period of roughly three months, the bodies of five prostitutes were found. The murderer, Steven Wright, was identified and arrested. A resident of (you guessed it!) London Road, the discovery of his crimes led to the street being given a reputation and haunted his unknowing neighbours. The film follows the residents through; the period of uncertainty of a serial killer being on the loose: the identification of the murderer: his arrest, trial and convictions for all five crimes; and the community trying to rebuild itself by hosting events culminating in a flower show in their front gardens. The fact that these are all real events that occurred is echoed by the construction of the film – the residents of London Road were interviewed by Alecky Blythe over a period of three years. Her questions focused on the wellbeing of the community were well-received by the interviews and resulted in the unburdening of some very honest and heartfelt opinions. These recording were then transferred to a theatre production which was produced in a verbatim style – with the spoken text being reproduced by the performers exactly as it was recorded. Everything from tone, meter, pitch, inflection and fillers were retained to create a ‘real’ reflection of what happened. The twist is that the dialogue is set to music to expedite the emotion – intensifying what is being spoken/sung.

This film is, as far as I can gather, a true stage-to-screen adaptation. The killer and his victims remain unseen, the focus staying with the neighbourhood as it tried to regenerate in the aftermath. In fact the only change appears to have been with regards casting. Instead of retaining a main ensemble cast of unknown, the film has made the use of stunt casting. We have Anita Dobson (of Golden-era Eastenders fame), Olivia Colman (she of everywhere-on-the-telly fame) and Tom Hardy. Yes, you did read that right, the Tom Hardy (of the-awesomeness-that-is-Mad-Max fame and loads more.) This is one of two aspects of the film I found rather difficult. I will be very honest at this point and admit I was rather looking forward to Tom Hardy’s appearance (A- cracking actor B- also rather attractive.) When he finally appeared (I guesstimate 15 minutes in) he was good, for the three minutes of running time he featured. He was clearly chosen (and given top billing!) to draw in a crowd (I shamefully admit to this…) and does a fantastic job of creating well-rounded creepy character. In fact considering the short screen-time this is very impressive indeed. But one cannot help but ask, was he really needed? Why not use an equally talented but lesser known actor? When the USP for this film is the authentic-ness, the realism of what is being shown and heard, why then hire a big star like Hardy? Why pull the viewer out of such an immersive play but using such a familiar face? Why spend so much effort creating a suspension of disbelief, only to return them to relate with his (very skilled but very recognisable) presence?

This leads on somewhat to my second difficulty with regards this film. 24 hours on, I am still not sure if I liked this film. Also, I am not sure how necessary it really is. Whilst is it does celebrate the restoration of a community – in a time of utter emotional devastation light is brought in to conquer the darkness – is there not a degree of profiteering of the deaths of five young women?  This is surely a matter of personal opinion, although I am yet to decide mine (slightly flawed review then perhaps!?!) Those in the former camp will revel in the engaging sincerity, dazzle in the niche display and chuckle along with the dark humour. Others, however, will feel unsettled by the plot, bored by the pacing and find the emotion cloying.

For the most part, I’m afraid, I am in most agreement with the second of the two opinions. Though I desperately tried to will myself to like it, to an almost feverish extent, I just didn’t ‘get it’. Whilst the intent is admirable, the execution is jarring. Considering the film is so claustrophobic, the overly optimistic ending undercuts the power of what has gone on before. An interesting but flawed experiment.

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