There’s been an inclination of late to see successful stage plays make the transition onto the big screen, and make for compelling, critically acclaimed cinema. We’ve seen the likes of War Horse and Les Misérables nominated for Academy Awards, and now the latest to give it a shot is London Road. Its run at the National Theatre was met with an array of positive responses – and director Rufus Norris is hoping to emulate his own work on stage, and illuminate the silver screen with his latest endeavour. Whether you agree if it does or not, what can be agreed on, is that there’s not been anything else like this before, and you can’t say that very often.
Following on from Broken, Norris’ London Road studies the 2006 case of the Ipswich serial murders, where five prostitutes were killed. Taking place on a seemingly calm, residential street called London Road – after the ordeal was over, the local neighbours of the guilty perpetrator were interviewed, and it’s these very words that make up the lyrics to the songs within the production. Neighbours such as Julie (Olivia Colman), June (Anita Dobson) and cab driver Mark (Tom Hardy) give their personal thoughts on the matter, as we progress towards the end of the ongoing trial to determine the fate of the accused.
It’s the film’s innovation which is its greatest selling point. The concept of taking such a harrowing, real-life set of events and presenting it within the tropes of the musical genre is unique and ingenious, especially in a genre that so often revels in fantastical surrealism. Norris does a remarkable job in balancing this with the naturalistic, as the sombre lyrics are presented in such an overtly theatrical, choreographed way, requiring a suspension of disbelief. But it’s made easier to abide by, thanks to the way the lyrics include all of the subtle vocal patterns – the repeating of words, the umming and aaaing, all of the small foibles and idiosyncrasies we have. It enhances the emotional impact, making the words even more powerful. What also helps the viewer invest in this tale emotionally, is to witness the events unravelling from an outside perspective. Rather than embody the victims or the perpetrators, like we so often do in cinema, instead we watch on through the eyes of the neighbours, the everyday people and bystanders – like you and I – unwittingly drawn into this unfortunate ordeal.
There remains a chilling, indelible atmosphere to London Road, as Norris manages to capture that sense of anxiety which has taken over the local neighbourhood. Yet, while undoubtedly a deeply unsettling, and upsetting film, there is an uplifting edge to proceedings – as we watch on as this community unites, and comes together in the face of adversity.