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London to Brighton Movie Review (2006)

London to Brighton Movie Review (2006)

Paul Andrew Williams has constructed a drama, with breathtaking overtones, which could stand almost as a companion piece to Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth from 1997. Yet this is a film which stands entirely on its own, and even puts Nil by Mouth in the shade with an finish both realistic and poignant.

The performances are excellent. Georgia Groome is frighteningly believable as a 12 year-old girl caught in the world of vice, and Lorraine Stanley, as a prostitute caught between her conscience and a need to stay alive, is likewise gut wrenching. Also effective is Sam Spruell as a very unpleasant man called Stuart Allen, a man representative of the London underworld, and a man determined to track the above two young women down with terrifying and horrific consequences.

Comparisons are unenviable but one thinks of Mean Streets and Mona Lisa, though London To Brighton has an even more edgy feel. It may be that having worked together on the earlier short Royalty the characters of some of the cast were well-grounded, but the introduction of ridiculously young Georgia Groome transports the whole gutter-based story to another plane where even the most insensitive become humanized. This is Lorraine Stanley’s triumph as she transforms from Tart-Without-A-Heart Kelly to proxy-mother of the abused child Joanne. The gangsters here are anything but entertaining and no endeavour is made to romanticize the Pimp-Whore relationship, it is a world of abuse and Kelly’s attempts to rescue Joanne are all involving. The alternate ending is very short but very powerful; I’d like to have known which was the director’s alternative.

The star turn though, is arguably Johnny Harris. As Derek, he will make your flesh creep, yet, despite his many shortcomings – and be warned, his character is repellent – there is something also vaguely amusing about him. His facial expressions when talking and listening to his boss are comic to behold. Derek is terrified of Spruell’s Mr Allen, and with good reason. That terror joint with his own greed and need to save his own neck give the film an extra dimension.

It is not easy to watch, and some of the aggression and language are hard to take, but in a tepid film industry such as Britain’s, the arrival of a talent such as this should be noticed.

This film contains prostitutes, pedophiles, drugs, and violence, yet to even believe that this film panders to genre stereotypes would be doing it an injustice. This is a gritty realistic picture that thru its bleak story telling manages to make the viewer experience a part of the events unfolding, it’s harsh and unrelenting in its portrayal of the dark parts of city life that do exist in our world. The screenplay is as lean as a prize featherweight boxer, no loose-fitting tag on, no sub plots to bog the story down, just a hard as nails story culminating in a wonderful final reel.

Watching Lorraine Stanley carry both guilt and liability (especially her scene as she sits listening on the couch), I was struck by what precisely how difficult acting must be. I rewound to watch this scene twice, amazed with the overpowering realism of her reaction to what was going on. Neither overblown nor self-consciously minimalist, I could simply not imagine this character reacting any other way; not even by a hair. This actress walks around the entire film with a beat up face and her basic humanity just bores straight through the latex and makeup in a way that never leaves you guessing exactly what’s going on in her mind. She’s just marvellous.

Recently released on a subtitled DVD that includes a annotations by the director and others, an alternate ending, and eight deleted scenes, London to Brighton packs a wallop. Energy and tension adorn the film from start to end, a span of only 85 minutes. However, some of the scenes indicate a sense of lost hope, in the courage and loving protectiveness of Kelly and the childlike blamelessness of Joanne, there is a sense of possibility. Winner of the Best New Director Award at the Edinburgh Film Festival with a style indicative of the raw immediacy of Shane Meadows and the social awareness of Ken Loach, Paul Williams in London to Brighton has delivered an exceptional first feature.

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