Building a musical around an English neighborhood where five prostitutes were murdered is no slam-dunk of an idea, I don’t care what “Sweeney Todd” would say.
But, hey, Tom Hardy SINGS in “London Road,” a BBC Films production based on the stage musical. Who wouldn’t pay to hear that?
“London Road” is a street in Ipswich where five young working women were murdered in a very short period of time in 2006. That makes the crime look like more of a spree killer’s work than that of a serial killer. The play, and now the film, is built on the testimony gathered from the residents there in interviews, conversations that an opening title insists is “what they said exactly as they said it.”
Some liberties were taken with location and repetition, to turn statements into song and stage those songs in a pub, in a garden, on a bus or in assorted living rooms. But the idea is to show the locals as they really are, or were — frightened, annoyed, narrow-minded and judgmental.
The neighborhood, they insist, was only overrun with hookers after upgrades to the local football stadium. Street walkers flagging down cars, sex in alleyways, threats of violence if you called the coppers.
These “foul-mouthed slags” had it coming, several say.
Suspicions turn neighbor against neighbor. Smart-mouthed schoolgirls chirp “You auuuuuto-matically think…It could be HIM!…Is it him? Is it him? Is it HIM?”
Hardy, playing a serial-killer obsessed taxi driver, puts off one and all with his knowledge and theories.
The music uses minor chords and dark tones (very “Sweeney Todd”) and the singing is somewhat amateurish (not just Hardy’s). Not a single tune in it will stay in your head 30 seconds after it’s over.
Olivia Colman is a staple of British TV, not the pop charts. She plays Julia, very representative of the neighborhood’s views and someone willing to organize those who live around her as the cops overrun the place and the TV talking heads, doing their vapid, sing-songy stand-ups (a hoot) give the place a bad rap.
Kate Fleetwood stands out as a surviving street-walker convinced to give up the life by the crimes, the police, social services and neighborhood stigmatization.
We don’t meet the victims, or the accused killer (mercifully). But there is blood in the water when that suspect is arrested, a gleeful, choral rush to judgment.
I can’t say it all works, and there’s an epilogue that plays as more insipid than biting. But it’s a daring piece to put on the stage, even more daring to commit to film.
And if nothing else, the title is easy for tourists to remember as a place to avoid when visiting The Old Country.
MPAA Rating: unrated, sex, adult subject matter, offscreen violence, profanity
Cast: Olivia Colman, Tom Hardy, Anita Dobson, Kate Fleetwood, James Doherty
Credits: Directed by Rufus Norris, script by Alaecky Blythe, based on her London stage musical. A BBC Films release.
Running time: 1:31