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London Road - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
London Road
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+
Music: B+

In 2006, in the English town of Ipswich, five of the sex workers widely regarded as a nuisance in the area were murdered. Five years later, the musical London Road opened at the Royal National Theatre to critical acclaim. All of the dialogue and lyrics were lifted verbatim from interviews conducted with the local residents as well as some of the sex workers who worked the area at the time. Five years after that, we now have the film version.

It's a compelling concept, to be sure: the story concerns itself not with the victims or the murderer -- neither of which do we ever see or hear -- but with the community and how it coped. The musical numbers are certainly unique. Nothing rhymes here; people's spoken words have simply been set to music, sometimes harmonized. A lot of the same one or two lines get repeated, just with different inflections each time, often with others singing the same words in a sort of round, almost like a chant.

But the accompanying music is consistently lovely, even if the words -- I hesitate to say "lyrics" -- are a bit jarring in their manner of delivery. The musicality itself, considering what they're working with, is impressive.

I do wonder how much gets lost in the translation from stage to screen. The movie feels a bit like there's some key element missing. It feels designed for theatre-goers far more than for film lovers. It's not especially cinematic. When it comes to movie musicals, everything about it is unconventional, perhaps too much so. It's difficult even to characterize, to give a sense of what experience this as a movie is like. Occasionally being unlike anything else is a bit of a detriment, because it deprives us of a frame of reference.

That said, London Road is frequently, oddly effective. First we meet the characters, all of them actors but using words recorded in interviews, and they are discussing the fear that gripped the town while the bodies were being discovered. There's a peculiar tone regarding the people of this town and how they felt about the sex workers on their street -- they clearly did not want them there. One woman, in an uncomfortably chilling moment, admits to having thoughts that the murderer did then a favor. I'm glad that some of the sex workers who weren't murdered were also interviewed, and thus given a voice. This doesn't come into the narrative for a while, but it does underscore that there was nothing simple about the whole scenario.

How well the songs work varies widely. An early sequence depicting two local teen girls contemplating that any one of the men in the town could be the murderer is very well executed, their singing surprisingly catchy. Watching local newscasters singing their broadcasts is just plain strange. The whole story is sad in the broadest sense, even when one of them admits to the silver lining: the tragedy brought their community together. They even hold a contest of hanging plant baskets.

The resulting annual festival that continues to this day notwithstanding, to say that London Road is downbeat would be an understatement. This does not offer the delights that most people go to musicals for. There's a clear nobility to this whole project, and yet I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

Olivia Colman is one of the residents on LONDON ROAD.

Overall: B
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