"London to Brighton" does what it does well but too often seems a pointless exercise in British miserabilism crossed with a nasty gangster yarn. But pic looks unlikely to find much of a paying audience beyond festival outings and, with its plot nut of under-age sex, could run into censorship problems in some territories.
A technically impressive first feature that leaves an empty taste in the mouth, “London to Brighton” does what it does well but too often seems a pointless exercise in British miserabilism crossed with a nasty gangster yarn. Exceedingly well cast and played, good-looking lowbudgeter about two women being hunted down by various criminal lowlives announces a talent in writer-director Paul Andrew Williams. But pic looks unlikely to find much of a paying audience beyond festival outings and, with its plot nut of under-age sex, could run into censorship problems in some territories.Film is adapted — and uses some of the actors — from Williams’ 2001 short, “Royalty,” which led to him being selected for the Fox Searchlight Director’s Lab. Fruit of that experience, the short “It’s Okay to Drink Whiskey,” preemed at Sundance in 2004. Following the intertitle “London 3:07 a.m.,” film starts arrestingly with two women crashing through the door of a public toilet. The adult Kelly (Lorraine Stanley) is a tough Cockney hooker with a swollen left eye; the young, more well-spoken girl, Joanne (newcomer Georgia Groome), is close to hysteria, with torn clothes. They hop a night train south to the seaside resort of Brighton. Meanwhile, psychotic gangster Stuart Allen (Sam Spruell) gives Cockney pimp Derek (Johnny Harris) 24 hours to find the two females. It turns out that the pimp had provided 11-year-old runaway Joanne to the gangster’s dad, Duncan (Alexander Morton), who liked young girls — and now dad is dead. Momentum of the impressive opening, which swiftly intros a range of colorful characters, is maintained as the women reach Brighton and hole up in the house of some friends. Suddenly pic flashes back to earlier events when hooker Kelly, under Derek’s instructions, goes in search of a homeless girl to service Duncan and comes across Joanne living on the streets. Unsentimental dialogue, liberally dosed with gutter language, feels absolutely authentic in the mouths of the protags, and the rough chemistry between the two women — with Groome exceptional in the difficult role of Joanne — provides a solid anchor for the otherwise thin plot. Script continues to cross-cut between past and present as Derek and his sidekick (Nathan Constance), and Stuart and his heavies, converge on Brighton. As the audience finally learns what happened the previous night, Stuart takes revenge for his dad’s grisly death. Most of the violence, and much of Joanne’s sesh with Duncan, is implied or takes place offscreen, and is all the more powerful for it. However, after all the build-up, pic fumbles the finale, with a development that hardly makes psychological sense and a coda that seems over-sweet. Spruell is excellent as the hood who bears the psychological scars of his father’s excesses, and Morton, looking believably like his dad, packs plenty of menace into one short scene. Harris, in the only role that is shaded with some humor, is fine as the bumbling Derek. First outing as a d.p. by Christopher Ross achieves some notable imagery on a slim budget, mixing widescreen compositions with handheld, in-your-face stuff. Occasional music stokes the atmosphere. But at the end of the day, pic has a so-what feel — fine technique in the service of something rather unsavory.