A criss-crosser glued together by the specter of homophobia and gay-bashing in liberal London, "Clapham Junction" is an intelligent and engrossing ensemble drama marred just a bit by narrative over-rigging in Kevin Elyot's otherwise sharp, deft script.

A criss-crosser glued together by the specter of homophobia and gay-bashing in liberal London, “Clapham Junction” is an intelligent and engrossing ensemble drama marred just a bit by narrative over-rigging in Kevin Elyot’s otherwise sharp, deft script. Brit telepic has more than enough heft and polish — as well as brief full-frontal male nudity — to attract offshore buyers principally for home formats, but with niche theatrical also possible.

Pic’s many characters cross paths in the titular Battersea neighborhood over the course of a single day. Will (Richard Lintern) and Gavin (Stuart Bunce) are a bourgeois gay couple celebrating their civil union with a rather lavish commitment ceremony-cum-party, though Will’s notion of commitment looks dubious when he hits on attractive young waiter Alfie (David Leon), who politely demurs.

When Alfie hits the bar to unwind later, he’s aggressively courted again, this time by Terry (Paul Nicholls). But working-class Terry’s doting attention to his grandmother back home belies his nasty hobby of picking up gay men and violently attacking them.

Robin (Rupert Graves), whose latest script is dismissed by a TV executive because “the whole gay thing isn’t an issue anymore,” unhappily repairs to a dinner party, where he’s surprised to re-encounter someone he just spied looking for public-loo sex — closeted politico Julian (James Wilby), with his overbearing wife (Samantha Bond) on arm. As wine flows, the otherwise heterosexual guests’ banter gradually reveals the limits of their tolerance.

They include the parents of 14-year-old Tim (Luke Treadaway), who takes advantage of his parents’ absence to thrust himself on hunky thirtysomething neighbor Theo (Joseph Mawle), for whom this is a terrifying if not entirely unwelcome intrusion.

Inspired by an actual 2005 murder in Clapham Common, the initially witty film grows tense and unpleasant by degree en route to a violent climax.

Vet tube helmer Adrian Shergold lends a brisk yet elegiac tone to the proceedings that could easily have been milked for heavy-handed melodrama. Nevertheless, there are bones to pick with former thesp Elyot’s eventually over-zealous piling-on of plot revelations, coincidences and ironies, which might have derailed a film less accomplished in execution.

Perfs are excellent all around, even those essaying more one-note characters (including most hetero and female ones, a bit simplistically). Production values are high; neoclassical original score is just right. Some nudity, including one rather graphic sex scene, may require trimming for certain broadcast markets.

Pic preemed on U.K.’s Channel 4 during events commemorating the 40th anniversary of homosexuality’s decriminalization, and was criticized in some quarters for making too negative a statement.

Clapham Junction

U.K.

Production

A Regent Releasing/Here (in U.S.) release of a Darlow Smithson production in association with Channel 4 Television. Produced by Elinor Day. Executive producer, John Smithson. Directed by Adrian Shergold. Screenplay, Kevin Elyot.

Crew

Camera (color, DigiBeta), Tony Slater Ling; editor, Tim Murrell; music, Martin Phipps, Ruth Barrett; production designer, David Roger; art director, Kate Evenden; costume designer, James Keast; sound, Simon Bishop; assistant director, Finn McGrath; casting, Kate Rhodes James. Reviewed at Frameline, San Francisco, June 19, 2009. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Tom Beard, Rachael Blake, Samantha Bond, Stuart Bunce, Rupert Graves, Francis Lee, David Leon, Richard Lintern, Joseph Mawle, Paul Nicholls, Phoebe Nicholls, Neal Pearson, Claire Perkins, Adrian Rawlins, Lucy Russell, Jared Thomas, Luke Treadaway, June Watson, James Wilby.
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