Directed by: Rufus Norris.
Written by: Alecky Blythe.
Starring: Olivia Colman (Julie), Clare Burt (Sue), Rosalie Craig (Kelly McCormack), Anita Dobson (June), James Doherty (Seb), Kate Fleetwood (Vicky), Hal Fowler (David Crabtree), Linzi Hateley (Helen), Paul Hilton (Tim), Nick Holder (Ron), Claire Moore (Counciller Carole), Michael Shaeffer (Simon Newton), Nicola Sloane (Rosemary), Paul Thornley (Dodge), Howard Ward (Terry), Duncan Wisbey (Gordon), Tom Hardy (Mark), Rosie Hilal (Hayley), Amy Griffiths (Sarah), Gillian Bevan (Colette McBeth), Anna Hale (Jessica).
You have to give the new musical London Road credit for trying to do something completely different – and if it doesn’t quite pull it off, well, they tried. The film is an adaptation of the stage musical in which the writer – Alecky Blythe – tells the story the Ipswich Ripper – a man who murdered five prostitute in the working class London Road area of Suffolk in 2006 – and was convicted two years later. Yet, this isn’t really a story about the Ipswich Ripper at all – he isn’t a character in the play (I believe his first name is mentioned in the movie, but I don’t remember hearing his last name) – but rather of the area that it took place. Blythe interviewed the people in the area over the span of a few years, from before the killer was found, until after he was convicted. She then took their actual words – awkward phrasing, ums and ahs in all – and made it into a musical. There are a few numbers which are actually quite brilliant – and they happen often enough that the movie strings you along, as you continue to hope it’s all going to come together in some sort of interesting way. That never really happens – there are too many characters, and the film kind of peters out as it goes along, and I don’t think it ever really provides any real insight into the crimes – or the areas they took place in. I cannot even tell if the film is sympathetic to the area – or criticizing the residents for their rather cold attitude towards the prostitutes, who made up the victim pool. The film is an interesting experiment, but little more.
The film tries to weave together the multiple stories of everyone who lives near London Road – which the residents say was always a nice place to live. Then a few years before, prostitutes moved into the area, which had a negative impact on the area – which the residents tell you about. Then bodies of all those prostitutes start showing up all around the area – which horrifies the residents, who do not know what to do.
At its best, the film taps into the fear. The best single song is It Could Be Him – sung by a duo of high school girls, who start out giggling their way the song, until as the song progresses, and their terror eventually comes through. Another highlight is Tom Hardy, mumbling his way through a song as a cabdriver, who is obsessed with serial killers, who wants to make sure you know that doesn’t make him a serial killer.
If there is a problem with the film it’s that none of the character ever really come into focus. Many of them (like those two teenage girls), only show up for a few minutes, before they disappear from the rest of the film. The ones who do start standing out are more because you recognize the actor than anything else – like Olivia Colman’s Julie, a local woman who tries to help the neighborhood rebuild after the trauma it has gone through. Some songs work, most are forgettable – and the film rushes through the arrest and trial, and then tries to end thing on an up note that doesn’t really make sense.
I don’t think London Road really works – but I’m wondering if there is a way for a film like this ever to work. The goal of transcribing what people actually said and using that for dialogue would seem to be for realism sake – but then setting it to music goes in precisely the opposite direction. It Could Be Him is the rare example where the combination works brilliantly – but mostly the artificiality of the construct shines through more than anything else.
Still, I have to say this for London Road – it’s not quite like anything I’ve ever seen before. Sometimes there’s a reason for that – and I think London Road definitely does show that reason. It’s still something I’m glad I saw though.