‘London to Brighton’, the debut of writer and director Paul Andrew Williams, far exceeds audience expectations and abolishes the general conjecture that every new British gangster film must be a cheap rip-off of ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ attempting to cash-in on the niche that such films have created within the market.
The film tells the tale of Kelly (Lorraine Stanley) and eleven year old Joanne (Georgina Groome) traveling from London to Brighton with the desperate urge to survive the pursuit of Derek; Kelly’s pimp. With its brutally believable depiction of the prostitution ‘business’, its capture of the grimy locations of London, its realistic dialogue (which refuses to be censored out of the desire to express the truth of today’s linguistic tendencies), and its build of atmosphere through diegetic sound, this astounding piece of British cinema expresses to viewers that with every action there is a reaction (which may as well be the premise of the film). With this film however, the more appropriate phrasing would be: With every action there are a series of reactions: This films sets about capturing each reaction.
The main question posed by the film is ‘Who is the victim?’ Is it Joanne who, on the order of Derek was recruited by Kelly to ‘spend an hour’ with Stuart’s old millionaire father? Is it Kelly, who spends the film with a swollen black eye (which visually assists the differentiation between flashback and present)? Is it Derek who, on the order of Stuart hunts down Kelly and Joanne, presumably so that Stuart can avenge the fate of his father? Is it Stuart himself, whose father dies because of Derek arranging for an eleven year old girl to provide him sexual service?
The main event (the death of Stuart’s father) is only revealed towards the end, and is shown through aural atmosphere. We do not see the actual event, only the aftermath. A door obscures the visual perception of the climatic event, which acts as a physical representation of the sensitivity with which emotional events are handled. The same sensitivity and intellectually aimed focus points of each scene can be seen when villain, Stuart (Sam Spurell), slashes Derek (Johnny Harris) upon the leg with a razor blade to evince his authority and displeasure at the ‘service’ Derek arranged for his father. The fact that the actual action is off camera highlights the fact that the film is not merely about the actual events within it but the issues surrounding them. In fact the entire narrative is a display of the issues surrounding the main event, and the event itself is shown in flashbacks and referred to in dialogue. The eloquence of the rich narrative is the most significant factor of differentiation between this film and other British gangster films.
Greed seems to be a central theme, shown through the greed of each character: The greed to survive, to avenge, to obtain or to escape. None of the characters are shown to be innocent of greed; even Joanne shows such when she begs for more money to win more than one bear at the arcade, rather than simply survival money. Kelly, in recruiting Joanne for Derek and demanding more money for doing so, is initially shown as greedy. The film is about discovering a sense of selflessness, and about modern London and Brighton waning from being places of ‘survival for the fittest’ to places of ‘survival of the most selfless or moralistic’. Kelly’s protection of Joanne is not merely displayed to invoke empathy from us, but to show us Kelly’s journey from greed to selflessness (“Just let her go, she’s just a kid!”).
Huge significance is planted upon the theme of innocence, which assists the cunning twist at the end and the way the film circumstantially deals with violent and perverse situations in a moralistic way. The atmosphere throughout the film suspends disbelief, making the audience aware that this is not a sensationalized or glamorized blockbuster, but rather a bluntly honest piece of British cinema with a genuine aim of educating the viewer and of moving them. It’s safe to say this film will certainly move even the most detached audience member.