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Directed By Derrick Borte
Genre: Music - Drama
LONDON TOWN isn’t the most inspired of titles, it’s true, but this is a film that still manages to keep a surprise or two up its sleeve, even though its premise is seriously familiar. It’s another coming of age story.
Fifteen year old Shay (Daniel Huttlestone) is feeling the pressure. His freewheeling mum (Natasha McElhone) has left for a squat in London, so he’s combining going to school with trying to help his dad (Dougray Scott) at his piano shop and look after little sister Alice (Anya McKenna-Bruce). When his father has an accident that lands him in hospital for weeks, Shay has to keep the family afloat and goes in search of his mother. On the way, he makes some new friends – punk rocker Viv (Nell Williams) and, perhaps more importantly, Joe Strummer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) from The Clash.
So this is a coming of age story sent against a backdrop of punk – an unexpected twist on the usual convention. And that means the late 70s, when the UK was changing. There was a new Prime Minister, social, political and racial tension and music that was creating a revolution all of its own. In this particular case, The Clash, who Shay learns about from both his mother and Viv, who he meets on a train.
But coming of age stories are nearly two a penny nowadays, so the film has to work hard to stand out from the crowd. And it’s as predictable as you’d expect but – here comes another surprise – it’s not the problem you’d expect. Director Derrick Borte has made a film that’s sufficiently endearing to make you almost totally overlook the inevitability of its storyline. And it has two big plus points.
First is its sheer energy, especially when it comes to the music of the period, where it’s in your face, raw and immediate. And that goes hand in hand with its second strength, the two performances at its heart. Jonathan Rhys Meyers only appears in a handful of scenes, but he’s omni-present as The Clash front man, Joe Strummer. He’s miles away from the opulent costumes of The Tudors and the screen fairly crackles when he’s there, especially when he has a guitar in his hand. Despite being given a fairy tale quality – he always shows up when Shay needs him – his portrayal is never anything but gutsy and real.
And young Daniel Huttlestone isn’t far behind him. Hardly ever off the screen, his Shay is a likeable, resourceful teenager full of the contradictions that go with being 15 but who has to grow up and accept adult responsibilities way, way too early.
There are times when the film doesn’t really live up to its two leading men. Shay’s little sister, Alice starts off in her big brother’s shadow but, once their father is in hospital, her presence is stronger. The script makes her far too knowing for her age and that, together with some overacting from the youngster, undermines her early credibility. The fact that she’s nearly always in the company of Huttlestone make it even more apparent.
But, as a portrait of London in the late 70s and a teenager growing up fast in those turbulent days, LONDON TOWN it’s endearing and fast on its feet. And for anybody who the same age at the time, it’s a small treat.
LONDON TOWN is released on digital platforms on Boxing Day and on DVD on 2nd January 2017.
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