London to Brighton, 2006.
Directed by Paul Andrew Williams.
Starring Lorraine Stanley, Georgia Groome, Johnny Harris and Sam Spruell.
A gritty and unflinching drama about the lowlifes and criminals that inhabit London’s seedy underworld.
Kelly and eleven year old Joanne burst into a grim public toilet at 3am in the morning. Joanne is frantically sobbing and Kelly’s face is severely swollen and turning black and blue. London mobster Duncan Allen has been stabbed in his bedroom and his son Stuart wants to know who is behind his father’s imminent death. Stuart realises that Duncan had a prostitute with him that evening and calls upon local pimp Derek to find him the answers he needs. Derek knows that Joanne and Kelly are responsible for Duncan’s condition and that he must find them before he pays the price for their actions. Kelly and Joanne must keep running to stay alive and they head to Brighton to take cover, but those who are on their trail aren’t far behind.
London to Brighton starts by throwing the audience right into the action of the narrative, beginning with an intense energy that rarely falters throughout the following 85 minutes. The film actually begins in the middle of the narrative’s timeline, and Joanne and Kelly’s escape to Brighton is often interrupted with several scenes set in the past which reveal exactly why the two of them are on the run.
The film deals with a shocking and controversial subject matter mainly focusing on the depravity and corruption of child prostitution. Kelly is summoned by her pimp Derek to find young girl for Duncan Allen, and Kelly, who relies on Derek to look out for her, doesn’t have much choice but to head to the streets to look for a pre-teen prostitute. She stumbles upon runaway Joanne, who tries her best to act tough and agrees to Derek’s proposition of ‘spending an hour’ with a stranger for the grand sum of £100. This difficult topic is handled in a way that doesn’t shy away from disturbing the viewer (a film about child prostitution that wasn’t unsettling would clearly not be doing its job) but doesn’t cross boundaries into the unacceptable. A scene between Joanne and Duncan isn’t avoided and illustrates just how warped and sadistic he really is, but what I personally found most unnerving was the constant juxtaposition between Joanne’s innocence with the perverse and brutal world she is being dragged into. Scenes in which Joanne enthusiastically tries to win a teddy bear in an arcade, or vigorously bounds towards the sea to splash in the waves, or has various shades of primary colours plastered onto her face before declaring she has never worn make up, all poignantly remind the audience that Joanne’s fragile childhood is under threat from her corruptive pursuers.
Joanne’s innocent character and the sordid circumstances she is being subjected to are not the only two aspects set in contrast. The film is full of such elements, some of which also serve to make the atmosphere more unsettling, such as Duncan Allen dressed completely in white in his eerily pure and pristine home, which is later the scene of such evil and vulgarity. However, I think the changing tone possibly provides one of the most interesting comparisons. London to Brighton is constructed from a hybrid of genres. It clearly has elements of ‘Brit-grit’ realism, a gripping thriller, a British gangster flick and an unconventional revenge story, all of which create an often fast-paced, tense atmosphere that leaves the viewer literally on the edge of their seat (sorry to use a bit of a tired phrase here, but I think it quite accurately describes my behaviour whilst watching the film).
Contrary to this however, there is also a prevailing tone of languid desperation which permeates the narrative at certain points. Whether it’s Kelly’s lethargic friends in Brighton wordlessly lounging around their house and lazily smoking a joint first thing in the morning, Derek’s ‘girlfriend’ passively accepting to have group sex with his friends in his grey, dreary flat, or the various pathetic characters such as Derek and his sidekick Chum radiating a sense of uselessness, there is certainly a sense of lost hope, which suggests that many of these characters are trapped in a despondent life they have little hope of escaping from. The viewer can only hope that Joanne does not suffer the same fate.
London to Brighton is tense, melancholic, unsettling, heart-breaking and yet occasionally satisfying and optimistic, so I was understandably left a tad overwhelmed after my first viewing, especially as it’s quite short; the whole thing feels a bit like you’re caught in a whirlwind that carries you from city to seaside and back in under 90 minutes. However after a few moments of collecting my thoughts I realised that this is ultimately a good thing, as there are very few films that have left such a strong impression on me. I quickly came to the decision that this is one of the most well-crafted examples of recent British cinema, with an utterly absorbing plot and accurate, honest performances. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s certainly a rewarding and compelling one.