11 June 2015

5* review in The Guardian for LONDON ROAD

By otm

London Road review – gripping, macabre verbatim
musical about real-life serial murders

5 / 5 stars

The complex psychological effects that the Ipswich
murders had on the town’s residents made for a uniquely gripping stage show in
2010 – and the film version is another triumph.

Flaunts its artificiality and theatricality as part of its
sheer audacious effect … London Road

Peter Bradshaw

@PeterBradshaw1

Thursday
11 June 2015 15.30 BST

Rufus Norris’s film is an utterly gripping, macabre but
finally very moving cine-opera in a reportage verbatim style,
dealing with the 2006 Ipswich serial murders and their
complex psychological effect on the inhabitants of London Road. This is the
residential street that had become the city’s red-light district, where the
killer lived and where one of his victims was found. The film begins like a downbeat
drama, with plenty of grimly daylit front-room interiors with depressing sofas
reflected in dull, switched-off TVs. But when the newsreaders start to sing,
something queasily dreamlike happens. It is an addictive forensic thriller set
to music, and Olivia Colman’s presence
makes it look like Broadchurch crossed
with Les Mis. But there’s more subtlety and intricacy than you could expect
from either.

The film is based on the 2011 stage production
Norris directed for the Cottesloe stage at London’s National Theatre, with
music by Adam Cork and remarkable dialogue and lyrics by the verbatim-theatre
pioneer Alecky Blythe, based on her own interviews with the local community,
with media reporters and with the women who worked as prostitutes on London
Road. Perhaps it’s truer to say that London Road is a film oratorio, a cinema
piece that does not hide its stage origins, but flaunts an artificiality and
theatricality as part of its sheer audacious effect.

Blythe picks out key chilling phrases – “In the wake of
what’s been happening recently …”, “You automatically think it could be him …”,
“We’re all frightened to go out, but we were anyway …” – and loops, samples and
remixes them like a DJ, finding their own stuttering, clamouring poetry. The
cast includes Colman as a forceful woman who effectively becomes the local
spokesperson, and Tom Hardy as a minicab driver who is an
amateur expert on serial murders: “I’ve studied serial killers; it doesn’t mean
I am one,” he sings, and in repeating this phrase he puts in a disquieting
pause before “… I am one.” They are like a classical chorus who have been
allowed the stage to themselves; the murderer, the police and the victims do
not get singing roles, although the arias from the women who were randomly
saved by fate from death is a way of putting the victims in the drama.

What emerges is the locals’ ambivalent attitude. They are
bewildered, scared and angry. They are genuinely horrified by what has happened
and have a sympathy with the working girls that was inconceivable before. But
the deeply unsayable and incorrect thing is – and perhaps the exotically
contrived form of this film is the only way of saying it – they were secretly
grateful for the murders, if not the murderer, because the prostitution in
their street had been a nightmare; and also because the whole horror eventually
had a cathartic effect, revitalising police action, community cohesion and even
help and support for sex workers. And there is something even more incorrect,
even more unsayable than this. The situation is exciting. However afraid and
disgusted, the community felt an electricity passing through it. This is
exemplified by the two teenage girls who catch the eyes of men in a
greasy-spoon caff and run off, gigglingly fantasising about who the killer is.

It is a tribute to the intelligence of Norris and Blythe
that these ideas can be aired without judgment and without stereotyping and
tabloidisation – in fact, one of the most apparently vindictive statements is
put in the mouth of Olivia Colman, who can’t
help but be thoroughly sympathetic.

For me, London Road’s most extraordinary sequence is the
local street party instituted to judge the first “in bloom” garden competition,
which will decide who has the nicest display of hanging baskets. Nothing
important seems to happen in the scene – except for the fact that a prostitute,
or former prostitute, shows up, drifting past. And yet there is no
confrontation, no eruption. The action stays with the mysterious, intense
atmosphere of the street party, celebrating its survival. The mood cannot be entirely
pinned down, but the residents fiercely and almost angrily seize upon the
euphoria of prize-giving as a way of transforming all their rage and fear. It’s
something you would never get in a straight thriller: Patricia Cornwell or Kathy
Reichs couldn’t do it in print, and I’m not sure it could happen in Borgen or The
Bridge. London Road was a mighty success on stage. Now it is a unique triumph
on the movie screen.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jun/11/london-road-film-review-gripping-macabre-verbatim-musical


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