24 November 2006 | Flagrant-Baronessa
Gritty gem with strong, committed performances
In a run-down public toilet in London at 3.07 am, the middle-aged prostitute Kelly takes on the 11-year-old runaway Joanne. Together they take the train from London to Brighton to escape Kelly's hard-edged pimp. The film explores the mother-daughter-like bond that forms between the girls as they are left to fend for themselves in the gritty underworld of South London.
Paul Andrew Williams has done something remarkably cool here that he did not realise until his film started receiving praise and wider distribution (it even made its way to the Stockholm International Film Festival, where I saw it). Nevertheless, we can easily tell that this is a quality film with excellent performances by its two leads Lorraine Stanley and young Georgia Groome. Although the seedy underground and hierarchies of bad guys, johns and pimps channel Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn, director Williamsm stresses that London to Brighton is "not a gangster movie", but an unflinching look at the two aforementioned characters and how they cope under pressure.
The plot is left best unspoiled because it is gradually unfolded through well-positioned flashbacks, arguably the goldmine of the film. The first half of the film has a few pacing problems as nothing truly jumps out and grabs you but when the unspeakably effective background segments are interjected London to Brighton receives a well-deserved jumpstarting kick up the arse, continuing down a perfectly-paced path. One of the most poignant scenes sees Kelly's pimp ask 11-year-old Joanne if she is a virgin, and subsequently telling her to have sex with an older man. The amount of smoking, cursing, screaming and beating that goes on around her is heartbreaking.
This would not be the case with a lesser actress. The fact is that Georgia Groome inhabits Joanne so effortlessly and deeply that it is a sight to behold. Her crying performances wrenches your heart. Other than the perfectly-cast Groome, the director told us that he applied no seriousness to finding the 'perfect people' for the respective characters: the guy in the green jeep, for example, was cast because "he had a green jeep". In this way a gritty, unpleasant and plain cast presents itself an ordinary pack of South London criminals. Better yet, they truly emote. When Kelly and Joanne down the sour rum & coke that the older man has given them, you can feel the bitter aftertaste of the drink.
'London to Brighton' has been likened to Mike Leigh's Naked, and perhaps this is an apt comparison. What remains clear, however, is that Williams has served up a deliciously gritty and unflinching drama in the midst of chaos, which he occasionally pauses with wonderful slow-motion captures and dreamy shots of the windy barren boardwalk of Brighton. It's bruised, realistic, harrowing and compelling a very good watch.
8 out of 10