Audrey Kupferberg: London Road And Happy Street

Mar 17, 2017

The film version of the hit British stage musical London Road, written by Alecky Blythe, recently was made available to home markets.  Both the play and its screen version are performed in an unusual and rather surprising form of musical entertainment called verbatim theatre.  This approach to musical theater, and as it extends to film musicals, presents interpretations of true events in a documentary style.  The lyrics are constructed from words spoken by the real-life participants.  The music reflects the inflections of the voices which originally spoke the words.   Most likely, viewers will not go to sleep humming the tunes of LONDON ROAD.

The plot follows the actual serial killings of several prostitutes who were working along London Road in Ipswich, Suffolk, England in 2006.  Unlike most recent films which deal with murders, LONDON ROAD does not depict the gruesome slayings, and audiences are not subjected to spine-chilling scenes of violence.  This is a tale that focusses on the concept of community.  This is the story of the residents of London Road.  It relates the various ways in which these working-class people reacted to the murders, with fear for their own lives and with suspicion of their neighbors.  The people of London Road eventually learn the identity of the killer.  Since it’s not a suspense film, the reveal is not a large part of the unfolding of the story.  The key element of story-telling is how the community deals with the crimes and then comes to terms with the events, once the terror ends. 

While scenes are shot mainly along real streets and inside real homes, giving the movie a documentary flavor, this film actually is a highly creative, artful work.  Director Rufus Norris is the multiple award-winning Artistic Director of the prestigious National Theatre in London, and it was Norris who directed the first stage production of LONDON ROAD.  The only other feature film directed by Norris is BROKEN, a crime drama from 2012 which won Best British Independent Film for that year.  

Norris and the talented production design and visual effects people take the location shoot, with its drab row of houses, a lower-end shopping center, and some very unattractive industrial structures, and make it into an artistic conception by streamlining the color grid through creative lighting and digital effects.  The sober first half of the film appears harsh and grey.  The latter part of the film embraces cheerful tones, as the screen bursts into the colors of fresh flowers and balloons. 

The cast is quite huge, mainly peopled by names not recognized by American movie-goers, but with standouts such as Olivia Colman, Kate Fleetwood, and Tom Hardy. However, if a potential viewer is thinking this is a Tom Hardy movie, forget it.  One could count the number of shots in which he appears and not be over-taxed by the effort.  In addition to the long list of professional actors, many of the actual residents of London Road appear, adding to the documentary flavor.

At a time when LA LA LAND is considered by many movie enthusiasts to be the one-and-only creative film musical of recent years, it is of value to find other recent examples of the genre.  LONDON ROAD will never find as extensive an audience as LA LA LAND, but it is an equally innovative musical entertainment. 

For audience tastes that are more fanciful, take three minutes and go online to see HAPPY STREET, the brand new animated musical short from Rhino featuring Bill Murray and Paul Shaffer.  It’s a feel-good, escapist treat for the many who are suffering from the current state of the world.   While it doesn’t last very long, you may find yourself watching it over and over, singing along, and – unlike LONDON ROAD -- you may go to sleep humming the tune.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman. The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.