Candid approach to youthful experiments
variably begins in standard fashion, whether it be the reports of television newsreaders, disturbed residents of the area or even police; then key lines are repeated and gradually the dialogue is transformed into songs, mostly but not entirely performed by a chorus of characters. Thus the line “Everybody’s very nervous” becomes the starting point for a musical interpretation of street-level fear and paranoia.
Norris’s camera picks out various characters for special attention. Prominent among them is Julie (Olivia Colman), a wife and mother who becomes a de facto leader of the community, encouraging the closing of ranks against the intrusive media and solidarity in the face of the danger posed by the killer in the period prior to his arrest. Yet while seeking closure, Julie is not above admitting that, secretly, her loathing of sex workers is such that she can understand the killer’s motives.
Dodge (Paul Thornley) is a loner and so, in the early days of the investigation, a natural suspect. Focus also falls on a pair of married couples, an elderly man, and a couple of young girls who spot a suspect on the bus (“You automatically think it could be him”), and all have something to say, some comment to make, on the horrible drama unfolding in and around their street. And there’s also Mark (Tom Hardy, in a one-scene cameo), a taxi driver who admits he’s made a study of serial killers, though — as he’s quick to point out — that doesn’t make him one.
Despite the horrific subject and the convincing, albeit stylised, depiction of the way ordinary people react in this kind of crisis, the film is imbued with black humour. “At least nobody stole our festive wreath this year,” remarks one character as Christmas approaches and the area is filled with police. There’s some mordant satire at the expense of “ordinary” men and women who get a thrill out of being in proximity to dramatic events (when the never-seen killer is arrested, crowds gather to see the police car take him away to the mantra: “Just waiting to get a glimpse, really”). And a scene in which a TV reporter makes several attempts to speak his lines while being filmed in front of the house in which the killer lived is grimly funny.
With its combination of real-life drama, songs and very British humour, London Road is nothing if not audacious. Impeccably acted by the ensemble cast, and vibrantly photographed (by Danny Cohen) and choreographed (by Javier de Frutos), it easily transcends the challenges inherent in the very concept. Norris proves again that he’s an acute observer of the average Brit.