UK Release Date: 12th June 2015
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Rufus Norris
Writer: Alecky Blythe
Starring: Olivia Colman, Paul Thornley, Anita Dobson, Kate Fleetwood, Tom Hardy
Synopsis: The baffled residents of a quiet Ipswich street find themselves the centre of the entire nation’s attention when a ruthless serial killer begins to prey on prostitutes in the area.
The concept of “verbatim theatre” – in which a script is constructed from the precise words of real-life interviewees – is not a new one. However, the 2011 stage show London Road gave the genre a slightly different spin by turning those words into song to construct a slightly unsettling, unorthodox musical. The story now makes its way to the big screen, with a screenplay from the show’s original writer Alecky Blythe.
In 2006, five prostitutes were found murdered in the Ipswich area. The case brought media attention to London Road, where prime suspect Steven Wright – who was later found guilty – rented a property. By interviewing local residents, including community leader Julie (Olivia Colman) and bizarre taxi driver Mark (Tom Hardy), the film sheds light on the murders and their media coverage.
Initially, the central conceit of London Road is a jarring one. The film dances on the fine line between dialogue and lyrics, distancing the audience from the cold, unsettling vision of Ipswich conjured by director Rufus Norris. This isn’t a film that wants to welcome its audience with open arms. If anything, it wants them to stay away.
| "Everyone is very, very nervous, um, and very unsure of everything, basically."
It is this deliberate alienation that makes London Road so unsettling. The defiant reality means that there’s a real sense of intrusion – as if the audience is complicit in the changing face of this quiet neighbourhood. The fact that the film constantly utilises the singsong qualities of speech to blur the line between drama and musical continues to present the off-kilter feel of the film.
The entire ensemble cast completely disappears into their respective roles, with Tom Hardy particularly memorable in his brief, jittery appearance as a taxi driver obsessed with the minutiae of murder. It’s as if his character from Locke read a little too much Jeffery Deaver. Meanwhile, Olivia Colman delivers her trademark brand of quiet brilliance as the understated, acerbic community leader, trying to piece together the past camaraderie of the road.
Whilst there’s a certain joy to the uneven, rough nature of the dialogue, whether spoken or sung, it does threaten narrative coherence at times. London Road suffers from delivering crucial information in the form of loud, bombastic music, making it easy to miss details of the case. It’s also frustrating that London Road tells its story in a steadfastly linear fashion given the conceptual daring shown in terms of genre.
| "You automatically think it could be him."
Despite, or perhaps as a result of, its offbeat, bizarre method of storytelling, London Road is a tough film to enjoy. It is, however, an exceedingly interesting take on a dark true story that remains fresh and raw in the memories of many British citizens.
Pop or Poop?
Resisting the temptation to tell the story of the Ipswich murders in straightforward thriller fashion, London Road is an interesting take on the material.
It doesn’t always work out and it takes a while to become used to the jarring central concept. However, when the film does come into its own, the use of song illuminates the story in a way standard, scripted dialogue never could.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.