Of the 61 films I’ve seen this year, what’s made the top ten…?
‘People like films because stories are a structure, and when things turn bad it’s still part of a plan. There’s a point to it.’ – Tom, Their Finest
The citizens of London Road will talk-sing their way to a brighter tomorrow!
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.
Is it Moomin’ marvellous? Well, yes and no…
Going into this film with no context of The Moomins is inadvisable. In fact, I would probably recommend this film only to big fans of the Moomins (shout out to Carrie ‘Cookie’ Turner-Gould and Matthew at this point!) Unfortunately, I am not a big fan of the Moomins. Although I have vague memories of the cartoon series, of strange hippo-looking creatures going on adventures, I do not really remember enough of the series to confirm that this film is merely a continuation onto the big screen. And I really did not remember The Moomins being so… strange…
The film opens with Snuffkin (yes I have got tabs open of Google and IMDB to help with this review!) strolling across Moomin Valley.In fact the entire opening sequence (3-5 mins) is of Snuffkin on his journey, of what and who he sees along the way. It is in this aspect the film really excels – the artwork and colouring is truly extraordinary. Every single frame could be printed off and used as artwork. The hand-drawn animation is truly glorious to watch on the big screen, and sets up a would could be described as a whimsical and quaint tone for the rest of the film. Or you could describe it as tedious. But I digress…
Finally, Snuffkin arrives at his journey. At the point the party (literally) gets started. Moominpappa makes a speech about how at this present moment he would not want to be anywhere else. He then plays a bit with fire then the party is over. Then we cut to the next day and a pirate ship is the distance (there is no transition or explanation, which may divide audiences) It starts to sink and the pirates escape – leaving behind their prisoners, Little My and her sister, who are tied up. They have also abandoned two treasures chests – one filled with gold and the other, seeds. The Moomins go to scavenge, accidentially rescuing the hostages in the process. The pirates come to collect their treasure chest from the Moomin family – who chose to collect books, fireworks and seeds instead. The pirates leave. The next day, whilst relaxing in the garden, they decide to go to the Riveria. They go to the Riveria. Various adventures happen. They go home.
And that is it in terms of the plot. It is incredibly simplistic and that both works, yet also doesn’t. Yes, it is a kids film but that doesn’t mean it has to be so simple or almost lackadaisical. Also, if this really is a kids film, I’m not so sure they would understand that many of the jokes or nuances. In fact the entire sequence in the Riveria is essentially a satire of a Monte Carlo- esque resort: about how ‘appearances can be deceptive’, to ‘be careful what you wish for’ and how ‘the grass isn’t greener on the other side’. Snorkmaiden is wooed by a charming celebrity man/dog/thing, who rivals Moomin in her afffections. It takes a fencing duel for her to realise the error of her ways. One character, the Marquis Mongaga, in fact personifies woes of consumerism completely. He spends most of the film charmed by the misadventures of Moominpappa (adventures I can only presume are recounted events from the comic strips?) until he feels bold enough to confess- he would give it all up to be a poor, struggling artist. Needless to say, he isn’t really suited to the lifestyle he has glamourised. In this sense the film is quite clever, gently poking fun at bohemia and culture with some rather sharp gags. But this is done in a manner far too episodic for it to actually flow as a film.
This film, perhaps like marmite, will divide audiences totally. One side will leave the cinema describing it with adjectives including, ‘wistful’, ‘gentle’, ‘charming’, ‘mischievous’, ‘heartwarming’ and ‘eccentric’.
The other side will leave asking, ‘What did I just see..?’