London Road is unique in that it takes its song lyrics verbatim from news reports and interviews, and sets it to music. Nearly every single word is sung, and that includes the speech fumbles or every time the person said “um” or “like.” It’s audacious in its concept, and surely challenging for those involved. But that doesn’t particularly make it a good film.
I can’t comment on the 2011 play on which it’s based, since I haven’t seen it. As for the movie, whatever it was that made the play so well-loved doesn’t seem to work here. It’s based on a true event surrounding the murders of five prostitutes in Ipswich, Suffolk in 2006, and how the community responded to it. It’s a strange cross breed of docudrama and musical, with its actors mostly speaking at first before finishing their sentences in songs. Some may consider this method intriguing, and it might lead to them loving the songs and how director Rufus Norris – who also worked on the stage play – took a daring idea and did wonders with it. I found it to be tedious.
When it comes to musicals, there’s supposed to be a certain melody that reaches out and hooks you – that makes you invested in the songs. They don’t necessarily have to be upbeat, but they have to have some kind of ring that will make you want to sing its chorus – or a certain verse – after you leave the theater. London Road doesn’t have that. The songs never amount to anything memorable. They come in at awkward times and try to make a statement along the lines of, “Here! Listen to me!”
Everyone from the original cast of the London play has a part here, and the film also has some big names attached to its marquee. The biggest is Tom Hardy (The Revenant). He’s the third-billed actor on the film’s posters, and yet, he only has about five minutes of screen time. He plays a cab driver with a fascination for serial killers, and he keeps telling his fare that he’s not the one who murdered the prostitutes.
Olivia Colman, superb in AMC’s The Night Manager from earlier this year, has a much bigger part as one of London Road’s residents. She’s fine with what she’s given. The same can be said about Anita Dobson. The film’s 93-minute runtime burns through the numerous characters presented onscreen, barely giving the viewer time to invest and care for them
This may have worked onstage, hence why it received so much acclaim. As a film, though, London Road doesn’t quite hit all the right notes. Part of it wants to be this hard-hitting, factually-based drama, and it could have succeeded as so with its use of what people actually said during the interviews. That’s a bold approach by itself. Setting it to music is also an interesting approach, but here, it just makes the film’s tone feel off-balance.