London Road (2015)

The Wikipedia entry, at least when I checked it, called this film a “musical mystery thriller film”, but I don’t think that’s right. However, I concede there’s a level of confusion in approaching it, because certainly I’ve never before seen this kind of musical, taking place within the framework of a blend of kitchen-sink realism with talking-heads pseudo-documentary — like Andrea Dunbar via Clio Bernard (in her docudrama The Arbor) as approached by… oh, I don’t even know exactly! Who does musicals like this? But despite being an odd blend, it definitely works. The text is taken from the real-life testimony of locals living on Ipswich’s titular road — we hear the originals over the final credits — commenting on a spate of gruesome murders that took place in 2006. The film isn’t so much a mystery about who committed the murders (that particular issue is resolved fairly straightforwardly, although there certainly is speculation about it), nor is it a thriller exactly, it’s more a drama about how a street of ordinary Englanders — with all their innate conservatism and suspicion of outsiders (especially of the murderered prostitutes) — are oddly brought together as a community against the backdrop of the murders and all the unwanted media attention it brought to their street. Indeed, it’s this chatter of TV news speculation which first starts to cohere into singing within the film. So if the musical form itself is part of that glue, at first it’s only at a formal level — we start out with a bleak colour-drained provincial town filled with dread and mistrust, yet these quite different residents, who avoid one another’s gaze in expectation that each may be the murderer, nevertheless share the same words and echo refrains from one another’s documentary-like testimony. As the film goes on, characters are not just linked formally in this way, but start to actually sing with one another, though it never fully becomes like a typical musical. There may be dance sequences, after a fashion, but the lyrics remain very grounded in naturalistic speech patterns, with all the temporisers and anacolutha that characterise it. Moreover, the film is careful not to detach itself from reality: even towards the end, amongst those who have come to be the film’s moral centres (such as Olivia Colman’s Julie), there are little shards of close-mindedness. The last scene may be the closest it gets to the kind of elevation you might expect in a musical finale, and even that is tempered somewhat — not grandly bittersweet in the style of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but something just a little bit hopeful and a little bit sad.

© Picturehouse Entertainment

Director Rufus Norris | Writer Alecky Blythe (based on the musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork) | Cinematographer Danny Cohen | Starring Olivia Colman | Length 91 minutes || Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Monday 15 June 2015


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