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Camerimage: Cinematographer Danny Cohen on Movie Musical ‘London Road’

BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — Cinematographer Danny Cohen has an enviable pedigree: “Room,” “The Danish Girl,” “Les Miserables” and “The King’s Speech,” among other films.

At the Camerimage festival he spoke at a Q&A following the screening of one of his latest, “London Road,” a musical starring Tom Hardy and Olivia Colman which is based on the stage play that first opened at Britain’s National Theater in 2011.

Inspired by the story of serial killer Steve Wright, who murdered five prostitutes in Ipswich, England, from 2006 to 2008, the play’s dialogue, set to music, is written verbatim from recorded interviews with residents living along the town’s London Road.

“They’re all real words, spoken by real people, and later set to music,” said Cohen.

All the sung dialog was recorded live during production, which cause the producers to pay attention to details they don’t ordinarily concern themselves with — such as costumes that don’t make any noise.

The film opens with bleak, subdued colors as news of the murders unfolds and spreads. The hues brighten considerably out after the killer is convicted, the community heals itself and the residents spruce up their street with hanging plants and gardens.

As with the earlier “Les Mis,” Cohen always kept the songs in mind when setting up shots. “The camera had to move to match the music,” he said, “and it was especially complicated in the big ensemble scenes.”

Rufus Norris, who directed the play, also helmed the movie version.

“London Road” became the first play that the National Theater produced as a film. It was a co-production with the BBC.

Asked about the film’s antecedents, Cohen went much farther back than his own “Les Mis” and referred to the 1964 French film “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” in which the dialog was sung. “This was radical for a European film,” he said, “because musicals are essentially an American genre.

The film version of “London Road” premiered in the U.K. in June and also screened at the Toronto Film Festival in September.

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