E1 Entertainment // 2006 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // August 28th, 2009
Innocence has nowhere to hide.
Winner of several international awards since its UK debut in 2006, the gritty London to Brighton has finally made it across the pond. Question is, will Americans take notice?
Urban prostitute Kelly (Lorraine Stanley, We Want Sex) is ordered by her sadistic pimp Derek (Johnny Harris, RocknRolla) to recruit a 12-year-old girl. After several hours, Kelly finds Joanne (Georgia Groome, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging), a runaway who accepts Kelly's offer for food and cigarettes.
While eating in a restaurant, Derek comes in and offers Joanne 1000 quid to spend an hour with one of his clients. Joanne accepts, even if she isn't entirely aware of what she has to do. As for Kelly, she feels extremely uncomfortable over "escorting" Joanne to the client's home.
When the meeting goes violently awry, Kelly and Joanne find themselves on the run. In desperation, they decide to travel to Brighton and hide out with a friend of Kelly's. Little do they realize an underground thug named Stuart (Sam Spruell, The Hurt Locker) is upset at what the girls did to the client, and is determined to catch up with them.
Let me get this out of the way right now: London to Brighton is one of the most potent, grim, and effective thrillers I've ever seen. Considering how Hollywood has been churning out remake after remake in the past few years, I'm grateful they've left this shocker alone. It's admittedly going to be a tough sell to American audiences who are, by and large, generally uninterested by British cinema. Seriously, unless the movie has Harry Potter or James Bond (or is written by Richard Curtis), it's destined to be ignored once it reaches our shores. I think this is insane considering how much we've borrowed (ahem, stolen) from the Brits when it comes to film and television.
The crux of London to Brighton's story is a fairly simple one. What makes it work so well are the all-too-believable, hard-hitting performances and an uncompromising approach to the material. If writer/director Paul Andrew Williams (The Cottage) had shown less mercy, this narrative could have easily dissolved into unpleasant camp. From the beginning when we meet the battered Kelly and the emotionally damaged Joanne in the grimy, graffiti-laden bathroom, we care about them immediately, even if we don't know the full horror of the situation. Some details are told in haunting flashback; others are revealed by the girls as they get to know each other on the way to Brighton by train.
Despite the sordid details sprinkled into the script, Williams manages to avoid sensationalism or button-pushing manipulation. He's more interested in the growing relationship between Kelly and Joanne, not extreme violence or aberrant behavior. Much of the second act is devoted to conversation; by the third act, Kelly has become the closest thing to a mother Joanne's ever had. Once this emotional investment is established, the final act is almost unbearable to watch. Some may write off the climax as a contrived twist, but it doesn't negate the fact that London to Brighton never, not once, loses its grip.
Much of the cast consists of unknowns, yet all of them give knockout performances. This is especially true of Georgia Groome, who's positively wrenching in her film debut as the street urchin Joanne. Her climactic confrontation with Spruell (who's exceptional as the soft-spoken gangster) is both terrifying and unforgettable. Stanley is another standout as the hooker who, for once, feels responsible for someone other than herself and does her best under the dangerous circumstances.
It's a shame London to Brighton was never granted a wide theatrical release in the U.S., as it would have made a better impression. That being said, E1 Entertainment cooks up a super-deluxe DVD that does justice to the film. Visually, the dirty areas of London and the lovely outdoor shots of Brighton are breathtakingly preserved in the 2.35:1 anamorphic print. Black levels and flesh tones are superb; the image is only marred by a minute amount of grain. Very little music makes the natural sounds all the more bone-chilling, and they come through fine with the 5.1 surround track. English subtitles are also provided.
The staggering amount of extras begin with a director's commentary. Williams is joined by Stanley, Harris, and director of photography Christopher Ross, who all provide a roundtable discussion of making the movie. Those who are not into commentaries will prefer the 24-minute Q&A session with the director and other crew members, which provides an equal amount of information. Next up is a 9-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with cast/crew interviews, then eight deleted scenes. Finally, we conclude with an alternate ending (which doesn't quite have the punch of the one in the film) and Groome's original audition tape.
For sure, the subject matter is no doubt going to turn off some viewers. Otherwise, I think London to Brighton should be on your radar next time you enter the video store, as it makes most American thrillers look like Sesame Street in comparison.
Review content copyright © 2009 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Audition Footage