London Road (2015)
London Road (2015)
Director: Rufus Norris
Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Kate Fleetwood
Synopsis: London Road documents the events of 2006, when the quiet rural town of Ipswich was shattered by the discovery of the bodies of five women.
Musicals, eh? They’re all razzmatazz and colour, splashing around in puddles, or putting on a show in the neighbour’s barn, or a light-footed couple flanked by two dozen smiling beauties gracefully descending a giant staircase, or some grinning lothario crooning to a starry-eyed ingenue. Well, most of them are, anyway. London Road is different though. London Road is a musical with no tunes, no dancing, and desaturated colour. You have to admire writer Alecky Blythe and director Rufus Norris for having the courage to bring its National Theatre stage show to the big screen, presumably in the hope of gaining a wider audience, but you’ll probably wish you hadn’t bothered if you make it to the final credits.
Blythe interviewed the residents of London Road after one of their neighbours was discovered to be the notorious Suffolk Strangler, a serial killer who had briefly held the rural Suffolk town of Ipswich in a fearful thrall in 2006 when he murdered five of its prostitutes in six weeks. Not only did killer Stephen Wright live among these ordinary people, the prostitutes he preyed upon, after deserting their established patch on the streets surrounding the town’s football ground when the club installed CCTV, also attracted a slow-moving parade of furtive motorists to the formerly quiet residential area. Blythe incorporated her interviewees exacts words, including all pauses, hesitations and repetitions, into her stage musical in order to capture an authentic taste of just what they went through, and how the community healed itself once Wright was behind bars.
The incongruity of a serial killer musical undoubtedly holds a macabre appeal to some people, and also leaves the film vulnerable to accusations of trivialising the violent deaths of five human beings, but London Road takes great care to respect the memory of the dead. In fact, the movie isn’t so much about the victims or the killer as it is about the neighbours, their discomfort with the media circus that accompanies any high-profile killer, the ghoulish sight-seers, and the unexpected manner in which Wright’s exploits renewed the residents’ sense of community spirit. In fact, this aspect of the story – the revival of the community, the prostitutes shocked out of their destructive lifestyles by the killings, the defiant confession of one mother of a teenage girl that she would shake Wright’s hand for clearing London Road of prostitution – is where the film’s strength lies, and a straightforward documentary on this subject would surely make for facinating viewing.
Unfortunately, the decision to make a musical out of the story smacks of gimmickry for its own sake, a calculated ploy to achieve notoriety, and while some might feel it has artistic merit, they are surely in the minority. There’s a genuinely compelling story embedded in the real-life horror, one that would make a truly memorable film, but London Road’s treatment forces attention onto its novel delivery rather than the human tragedy at its core, and the film suffers accordingly.
(Reviewed 15th October 2015)