In 2006, the quiet town of Ipswich, England was thrust into turmoil and fear when, over a 10 day period, five prostitutes were brutally murdered. The knowledge that a killer is in their midst thrusts the people of the town in a state of paranoia and mistrust on “London Road”
This true life story is about the impact of a killer on the loose and the effect it has on the denizens of a town living in a nightmare. But, director Rufus Norris and writer Alecky Blythe take this horrific incident and recreate the aftermath of the murders in an original, intelligent and, despite the heinous subject matter, an entertaining and engrossing way
How did the filmmakers pull this off? Well, the dialogue is taken directly from transcripts and interviews with the inhabitants of Ipswich at the time. But that is not the real draw to “London Road.” In a very clever way, the words are not just spoken but, for the most part, done in song. This sounds weird but, in the hands of Rufus Norris, works very well indeed. This is not a conventional docudrama but one that anyone that loves the variety of film genres (AKA: film nut), from musical to animation, action, comedy, drama and documentary, should do themselves a favor and see “London Road.” I give it a B+.
As the holiday season fell upon Ipswich in 2006, five prostitutes were found murdered in less than two months. The residents of one street were conflicted, a new football stadium having brought crime to their area, but they were horrified when Steven Wright was arrested, their neighbor at 79 "London Road."
Looking for a different cinematic experience? How about a musical crafted verbatim from interviews with residents panicked by a serial killer on the loose and their efforts to heal once he's convicted? This unique work began in a workshop at London's National Theater which paired three writers with three composers. Writer Alecky Blythe, who had set up Recorded Delivery in 2003 to explore verbatim theater, was paired with Adam Cork who was inspired by her incomplete Ipswich project. His music was composed to match the rhythms of the human voice as Blythe's works not only use the words of her recordings but how those words are said. The result, themes building into choruses consisting of a harmonized layering of repeated phrases, often raises goosebumps.
Director Rufus Norris shepherded their play onto the stage, but in adapting it for the screen, he's opened it up, moving the production to London's Brexley borough where he takes wonderful advantage of the gasometers looming over his street (shades of David Cronenberg's 2002 film "Spider"). Where the stage play had a cast of eleven playing seventy roles, Norris now has an extended company and he's utilized them well, impressively choreographed in a Christmas market scene with natural yet synchronized movement.
After we recover from the sheer oddity of a newscaster (Michael Shaeffer's Simon Newton) singing from a television set, we follow several characters individually as they cross paths and reconfigure into groups like an English country dance. Julie (Olivia Colman, "Tyrannosaur") expresses her nervousness on her living room couch before heading to that market where a volunteer hands out rape alarms to women. Returning to London Road in a cab, her driver (Tom Hardy) sings out a profile of the killer, an amateur enthusiast whose denials of culpability are less than reassuring. Schoolgirls wonder at each and every male 'that could be him,' boarding a bus, then exit into a men's shop full of blank-faced mannequins. Julie's neighbor Ron (Nick Holder) starts a neighborhood watch program. Lookie-loos at the courthouse spout 'It's A Wicked Bloody World,' disappointed when they cannot spy the killer. Police tape crisscrosses London Road, then 79 is boarded up as its neighbors wonder that Wright lived there a mere 'Ten Weeks.' On the metal stairs of a gas tank, Vicky (Kate Fleetwood, "Philomena," outstanding) and two other prostitutes sing about trying to get off drugs, how a few regulars still provide income and their dismay that it cost five lives to get them any kind of help. One woman (Clare Burt) who can no longer bear to live on London Road sits by her window singing as her husband dismantles the room around her.
It is Julie, unsympathetic to the victims, who is the throughline to the story, rousing London Road out of its dismay with a London Road in Bloom gardening competition. The whole ends as residents celebrate with a street party, Vicky walking through their midst uncommented upon.
While its biggest stars, Colman and Hardy, are not known for their singing voices, "London Road" is a musical about ordinary people weathering an extraordinary event. Singing lines are often musically spoken rather than sung, yet when the harmonies begin this unconventional musical can stand with Broadway's best. Blythe's methods paint a societal portrait, Cook's music lets their words soar and Norris's staging envelops us in a dance. "London Road" takes a dismal subject and turns it into magical art.
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