There is a rhythm, a pulse to life and speech. This is captured by dance, by rap music, by poetry. The stage has long tapped into this, bringing this rhythm to art, but it is something that is rarely seen on screen outside of Shakespearean adaptations. It is fitting, then, that London Road also came from the stage, having been adapted for the screen by Alecky Blythe from her stage musical of the same name.
Based off personal interviews conducted by Blythe of the people of London Road after the “Suffolk Strangler” murders in 2006, the film chronicles the aftermath of these murders in Ipswich through the words of the people who lived there and were most effected by it. Blythe and composer Adam Cork used their words and layered them into music. This is not a traditional musical. It’s not particularly tuneful, and it’s missing the glamour and spectacle that is usually associated with the genre, but there is something about the cadence of the music the gives power to the words of the people of London Road; that lends that much more weight to them.
The film is at its best when it relies on the beat and the rhythm to guide it. The movement is spectacular. Just like the words are layered and amplified, so are the simple movements of the turn of a head or the tightening of a collar. There is power in the synchronization, power in the precision, power in numbers. The film’s editing highlights the music’s pulse, creating a captivating scene more powerful than any over-the-top song and dance number ever would. It’s in the details and the subtlety.
London Road loses its way here and there as the music recedes, the camera calms and we are left with just people talking. But in the end, it always returns to the unity and the beat, which is the main drive of the story. The community of London Road begins scared and suspicious after five women are found dead in their neighbourhood. They do everything they can to distance themselves from each other and from the murdered women, referring to them exclusively as prostitutes. Then, the killer is arrested the community begins to rebuild. They join together; even the remaining prostitutes, who have been so hated, are no longer completely on the fringe.
The voices of London Road are hard to forget. Alexy Blythe has made sure of that.
London Road had its international premiere as part of TIFF’s City to City London programme. It will screen again on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 6pm at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
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