London Road

 

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Admirers of Stephen Sondheim should check out this musical drama which successfully survives the dangerous transition from stage to film.

 

 London Road 

Tom Hardy, behind the wheel again, in his prominently billed cameo

 

In 2012 the theatre director Rufus Norris turned to cinema with an impressive first feature in Broken. Even so one was uneasy on learning that his second feature film would be a treatment of the musical play London Road which he had directed for the National Theatre. Despite the risk inherent in drawing on such sombre real-life material as the killing of prostitutes in the London Road area of Ipswich in 2006, the staging had been acclaimed. Nevertheless, the stylised nature of the work suggested that on screen it might just seem tiresomely theatrical (the fact is that it uses authentic words as recorded verbatim at the time but presents them in such a way that they only start out as speech and quickly turn to song, albeit to rhythmical accompaniment rather than to fully fledged tunes). But such fears underestimated what Norris could do in screen terms: his rethinking of the work is a triumph and the film that has emerged is a true piece of cinema.

The choice of words from the records is down to Alecky Blythe and the music is by Adam Cork. This particular approach to serious material may not be to everybody’s taste, but Stephen Sondheim with such shows as Sweeney Todd, Assassins and Pacific Overtures has overturned any restrictive notions of what musical theatre (as opposed to opera) can tackle. His example has influenced London Road. On film Olivia Colman has what one can think of as the leading role as a local inhabitant, but Tom Hardy as a disquieting taxi driver offers only a cameo appearance. In truth this is an ensemble work and the most original British feature film since Clio Barnard’s The Arbor (2010).

On the musical side a trio featuring prostitutes stands out, as does a sequence with angled shots and close-ups of mouths as the court verdict is awaited. But the murder suspect remains unseen and the police are hardly more than background figures since first and foremost London Road is about the impact of these events on the populace. It could, however, be felt that a reassertion of community spirit at the close is self-congratulatory with too little concern for those who to get by are driven to prostitution. But, if the ending is questionable, this film is a remarkable venture which could easily have failed but which for the most part triumphantly succeeds. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Olivia Colman, Anita Dobson, Tom Hardy, Clare Burt, Rosalie Craig, James Doherty, Kate Fleetwood, Hal Fowler, Linzi Hateley, Paul Hilton, Nick Holder, Claire Moore, Michael Shaeffer, Nicola Sloane, Paul Thornley, Howard Ward, Duncan Wisbey.


Dir Rufus Norris, Pro Dixie Linder, Screenplay Alecky Blythe based on the stage musical by her and Adam Cork, Ph Danny Cohen, Pro Des Katrina Lindsay, Ed John Wilson, Music Adam Cork, Costumes Edward K. Gibbon.


BBC Films/BFI/LipSync/Cuba Pictures/National Theatre-Picturehouse Entertainment.
92 mins. UK. 2014. Rel: 12 June 2015. Cert. 15
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