London Road

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The murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich does not sound like a promising subject for a film. But following two sell-out runs for the stage production at the National Theatre the film adaptation of London Road reunites the original cast with director Rufus Norris, script by Alecky Blythe and music by Adam Cork.

The murders took place in the Suffolk town in the autumn and early winter of 2006. Blythe, a pioneer of “verbatim” drama, travelled to the area to record the impact of the murders on the local community. The interviews were recorded and scripted with every figure of speech faithfully kept in. They were then put to music. It shouldn’t work but it does.

The acting — with a cast including Olivia Colman, Anita Dobson and Tom Hardy — brings the pared-down script alive. This “verbatim” style manages to tease out the intangible and contradictory emotions experienced by the community in a way that other formats could not. The script is based on samples of what people said and felt, and the film captures the mood, atmosphere and tensions of a community in shock.

The cinematography really builds the suspense at the start of the film. One extended scene follows two teenage girls around the town and documents the atmosphere of worry and fear. We see close ups of men through the eyes of the girls — so close we can see every pore on every face. The camera as magnifying glass makes people grotesque. 

The film also draws out the contradictions around how local people feel about sex workers. Some of the reactions to the murders are shocking. But the story focuses on one main character, Julie, who helps pull her community together and shows how cooperation can turn things around.

The film captures the story of the prostitutes with empathy. It is very hard-hitting. As the film closes we hear the actual interviews with the people whose stories have been transcribed and represented. 

My only slight criticism would be that towards the end of the film, during the trial of Steve Wright, the man who was eventually charged, the repetition in the dialogue began to pall and I began to wish for a bit more complexity. However, the tension of the trial and the impact on the residents are captured perfectly.

Reportage as musical felt like innovative, experimental film-making. The acting, the script and the music are superb. This is a real triumph — funny, endearing and really moving.