Adapted from the stage, London Road is a musical about the “Suffolk Strangler” murders of 2006, using the real words of members of the community. Think Creature Comforts meets the news.
The effect of this verbatim technique is curiously non-naturalistic, offering a glimpse into small-minded Middle England that’s reminiscent of Hot Fuzz or The League of Gentlemen – except it’s real, making it all the more unnerving. The residents’ contributions range from funny to shocking, in the cinematically underused Ipswich accent. Some of the most valuable comment comes from prostitutes in the area, as the ones actually being targeted by the killer – the film would benefit from more of their input. They explain that no one tried to help them until the murders began, while the residents remain largely unsympathetic and unpleasant throughout. As an insight into insular English communities, the film is oddly fascinating.
However, it’s not clear that a musical is the best means of conveying this rich content. The songs are repetitive and forgettable, with little more than hints towards melody – numbers such as “Everyone is very very nervous, um, and very uncertain of everything, basically” aren’t exactly whistleable. The musical’s attempts to build towards a rousing finale are unsuccessful, thanks largely to the undeveloped and unlikeable characters. There are welcome appearances from Tom Hardy, Paul Thornley and the brilliant Olivia Colman, but the film’s formal device can’t help but hold everyone back.
Sociologically interesting but musically lacking, London Road is a worthy experiment. A very British musical, it moves from grey to colourful towards its uncomfortably conservative conclusion. It’s all very, um, unsettling. Basically.