London to Brighton
THE MOVIE Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams' unpleasant 2006 drama opens with a prostitute rushing a young girl into a dingy public bathroom somewhere in London at 3 a.m. The prostitute sports a fresh shiner, one eye red and swollen so much she can barely see out of it. The young girl is so panicked her body shakes, and it takes a few jagged moments for the prostitute to clean the blood off her trembling hands and face. What follows in London to Brighton is a taut story as to whose blood ended up there and how, and why the prostitute, Kelly (a riveting Lorraine Stanley), is so frightened that she leaves the young girl, Joanne (Georgia Groome), locked in the stall while she goes out and quickly makes enough cash for them to flee as soon as possible on a train to Brighton.
Williams' debut feature is a particularly nasty bit of gutter realism, and which is only now getting an American DVD release after a very limited 2008 release. His 2008 sophomore effort, The Cottage--a particularly gory horror spoof starring Andy Serkis and Reece Shearsmith--earned him a bit of a rep in America as capable, if anarchic, horror stylist. London is something else entirely, though, and won Williams a small score of British nominations and awards. It's easy to see why: Williams' debut creeps along society's margins, with Kelly's living hand-to-mouth under the pimping hand of low-level thug Derek (a convincingly manipulative Johnny Harris), a man Williams introduces sweet-talking a young woman into going into the next room to sleep with a pair of guys who have "come all this way" and, in flashback, successfully pressuring Kelly into seeking out a young runaway--such as the 11-year-old Joanne that Kelly finds begging for change--for the high-paying client with a taste for sadism and knives. Following a violent altercation at the nonce's posh place, Kelly and Joanne flee, knowing Derek will soon be on their tails at the behest of a young London crime figure.
London bluntly captures the sort of underclass so effectively explored by Alan Clarke, the late British director who undoubtedly influenced the directorial debuts of two actors who worked under him, Gary Oldman's 1997 Nil by Mouth and Tim Roth's equally difficult 1999 The War Zone. Williams' London isn't as primal or accomplished as either, but it's no afternoon stroll through Hampstead Heath, either.
THE DISK This DVD comes with a nice smattering of extras in addition to Williams' expected commentary, including an alternate ending, behind-the-scenes footage, and deleted scenes. Also included is Groome's original audition for her key part. Groome strongly captures a young girl who's quickly learned to act tough, but she can't hide the fact that she's uncomfortably young. For a movie as tense as London can be, its two most excruciating scenes feature Derek asking Joanne about her virginity and Kelly getting her makeup out to prepare the young girl to earn some cash.