Reviews

London to Brighton

In this nuanced and exhilarating debut by Paul Andrew Williams, budgetary limitations are thriftily turned to their advantage as a captivating tale of sin and redemption is spun.


London to Brighton

Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Cast: Lorraine Stanley, Georgia Groome, Johnny Harris, Sam Spruell, Alexander Morton, Nathan Constance
Distributor: E1
Studio: Steel Mill / Wellington
UK Release Date: 2007-04-30
US Release Date: 2009-08-11

In London to Brighton, the nuanced and exhilarating debut of Paul Andrew Williams, budgetary limitations are thriftily turned to their advantage as a captivating tale of sin and redemption is spun. As the train rattles Brighton-wards to its assured destination, so the film hurtles forth; a sense of inevitability inherent in its grim denouement. With business wrapped up in a mere 85-minutes, this is supremely efficient film-making.

Paul Andrew Williams refers on the commentary to making savage cuts to jarring expositional dialogue and back-stories, and abandoning plans to include title cards to signpost flash-backs. Thus the film is brutally pared down to its bones, with audience aids, comforts and embellishments hacked away. With its extraneous filmic flesh stripped, the focus is on characterisation exhibited not through explanation but from textured, naturalistic performances which are predominantly subtle but expertly telling.

We are encouraged to draw our interpretations from the finer details on offer: fleetingly exchanged looks, and inferences that can be derived from manner. As if searching for the truth, the camera unflinchingly gets right up in the actor’s faces, mirroring the confrontational bravado of its underworld characters.

The titular journey starts unashamedly with a situation and location which redefine stark: a filthy public toilet -- the stench of which is almost detectable -- where a child smeared in make-up, Joanne (Georgia Groome), is hurriedly stashed in a cubicle. She wolfs down chips whilst seated on the throne.

The woman who accompanies her, Kelly (Lorraine Stanley), has been badly beaten and is immediately identifiable as a prostitute. The situation is instantly troubling as it transpires the duo are on the run from a violent altercation with a rich paedophile, Duncan Allen (Alexander Morton). The exact circumstances of the incident unfurl as the film progresses.

A frightened Lorraine proposes that they seek solace at a friend’s place in Brighton, a short journey familiar to commuters and urban day-trippers drawn to its pebbly beaches, and a literal breath of fresh air for the escapees fleeing the densely populated capital. Aboard the train, as they ease into their journey and each other’s company, Kelly comments affectionately, on seeing Joanne’s bruises (inflicted upon her by an abusive father), “What a pair aye, me and you, black and blue.”

Unfortunately Duncan is a connected man and his son Stuart (Sam Spruell) is himself an influential and psychotic criminal. Stuart barbarically coerces Lorraine’s pimp Derek (Johnny Harris) into hunting them down – slicing his leg to encourage him to comply. The erratic Derek and his less deranged cohort, the appropriately named Chum (Nathan Constance), are horrifically flawed but recognisably human, adding a layer of complexity to the chase.

During a sequence where he procures a sawn-off shotgun from a friend, Derek is incongruously overcome with flat-envy. As the situation regarding their pursuit of the girls escalates into violence, Chum is visibly ill at ease and eventually articulates his reservations, giving the seemingly bleak predicament a shaft of hope.

The cast are comprehensively excellent. Lorraine Stanley in particular cuts a hugely sympathetic and all-too-real figure as she vividly brings to life Kelly’s hand-to-mouth existence – turning tricks ‘on the fly’ as and when they require funds, and putting herself at great personal risk in order to do what’s right by Joanne. Sam Spruell as Stuart Allen is suitably menacing in his few yet pivotal scenes; effervescing with barely contained rage. And Georgia Groome, merely 13 when she made this, is wholly convincing as the young runaway mired in a mortifying series of events beyond her control or comprehension.

London to Brighton doesn’t always successfully dodge crime clichés and contrivances as Williams himself confesses on the commentary, including the now tiresome staple: a gangster who owns a strip club. In the film’s defence, this has the interesting and condemnatory effect of connecting the different levels of the sex industry, demonstrating that beneath the veneer of relative respectability (at least when compared to a street corner) this ‘gentleman’s’ club is dirty in more ways than one. And yet, for such a gutsy endeavour the largely predictable plot trajectory does let it down, especially in the film’s final acts.

The excellent commentary illuminates the process of film-making on a shoestring. It features Paul Andrew Williams, actors Lorraine Stanley and Johnny Harris and the Director of Photography Christopher Ross. In it Williams describes haggling with the proprietors of budget fast-food chain Chicken Cottage - who they’d initially offered a paltry 50 quid - and attempting to ingeniously pass off the interior of a defunct steam locomotive as a modern train, as it was all they could get for £250.

Practical constraints hindered every aspect of the film’s production: a tight shot hides multiple uses of the same location; mates were brought on board in a number of circumstances; the pressurised shoot - spanning a mere 19 days - meant sequences were condensed and tempers frayed; and the necessarily fraternal environment led on at least one occasion to an all-night drinking binge by the cast and crew, which threatened the next day’s shoot.

The young Georgia Groome’s audition also forms part of the extra material. This is a minor but fascinating addition as initially she reads her lines in a very stilted manner but she is stopped and asked to try again. We then see her compose herself, slowly exhale and the transformation is remarkable with tears flowing freely down her cheeks.

The other extras include an alternative ending (so harsh it’s like a blow to the gut); a few daft but jolly out-takes; a “Behind the Scenes” which is short and sweet; eight deleted scenes (none offering anything that is missed); and a substantial Q&A with all the major players, where Williams discloses that Brighton was used as a location purely because it was near London, and that he had never been there before the shoot. He also reveals his mantra to the actors was “don’t act”. It obviously worked.

Despite its deeply harrowing subject matter, London to Brighton is formidably performed and directed with real pace and panache. It’s an arresting trip that you’re strongly advised to take.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.