Paul Andrew Williams
British writer-director Paul Andrew Williams achieved the first signs of success and recognition in 2001 for his short film Royalty. Here, using many of the same cast members, he has created his first feature length – a thriller set in London’s violent and seedy underworld.
London to Brighton is an impressively focussed and direct film, with a frantic opening scene which sets both a style and mood that is maintained throughout. In this first scene – set in a filthy public toilet during the early hours – a battered and beaten women, Kelly, is trying to calm and attend to the needs of a highly distressed young girl, Joanna. It soon transpires that we are witnessing the fall-out from some horrific, but as-yet-unknown event, and from here the story unfurls smartly to throw the scene into its full, harrowing context.
The film’s tagline – “Innocence has nowhere to hide” – is a direct reference to 11-year-old Joanna’s involvement in the urban hellhole of violence and prostitution which the film depicts. The inclusion of such a young character (let alone a young actress: Georgia Groome was only 13 when shooting took place) brings with it an initial, and indeed lasting, shock to one’s sensibilities. Any fear, however, that this film may run like a feature length version of an anti child abuse campaign proves misguided; the depth of the story and its characters allows the film to transcend the merely sensational.
Kelly (Lorraine Stanley) and Joanna (Groome) remain the focus point of the film. We follow their journey from London to Brighton as they attempt to escape the wrath of Kelly’s pimp Derek (Johnny Harris) followed closely by angry gangster Stuart (Sam Spruell). Through the use of flashbacks – which equally play the function of emphasising Joanna’s trauma at the aforementioned horrific event – we gradually come to understand the womens’ plight, and experience its significant aftermath.
The versatility of Groome’s acting is impressive; her character’s temperament alternates very authentically between childlike innocence and a hastily manufactured self-sufficiency. Kelly remains much more stoical as her latent maternal instincts preoccupy her with the task of securing the safety of her newly-acquainted young companion.
Only once – when mentioning her mother’s name – do we catch a glimpse of what appears to be a more real and emotionally capable Kelly; one which perhaps existed before she was hardened by her now constant struggle for day-to-day survival. Indeed, most of what the audience learns about the two female leads is similarly conveyed through such fleeting and un-emphasised moments.
The tale itself has a raw power to it – and Williams has made a very wise decision not to complicate or demean the storyline through contrived plot devices or through out-of-place, artificially accessible characters. Although it runs like a thriller (and thus has a distinct lack of moralising), it portrays with uncompromising honesty the lives of those at the disturbing depths of urban Britain – those whom most of the audience will rarely have any contact with.
Williams shifts a heavy burden of responsibility onto the audience’s own ethical conclusions, resulting in the film’s eventual emergence as both an absorbing thriller and a highly challenging piece of political cinema. It is this shrewd manipulation of genre and audience expectation which will stand as its most impressive achievement.