London To Brighton

2006, Movie, NR, 90 mins


English actor-turned-filmmaker Paul Andrew Williams made a striking writing and directing debut with this character-driven thriller, which plays out against a backdrop of desperation, self-loathing and grinding poverty.

It begins at 3 am, with a clatter of heels and a crashing door. Battered prostitute Kelly (Lorraine Stanley) and 11-year-old runaway Joanne (Georgia Groome) burst into a public toilet and bar the door. Both are terrified, but Kelly is planning: They need to stay out of sight and get out of London; if she can earn some quick cash, they can catch a train to Brighton on the sea, where she has friends. The furies on their heels are Kelly's pimp, a contemptible bottom-feeder named Derek (Johnny Harris), and dead-eyed gangster Stuart Allen (Sam Spruell), who's just found his father (Alexander Morton) bleeding to death. The details of what happened filter out in dribs and drabs, but the broad strokes are enough to establish the stakes. The developing relationship between Kelly and Joanne, who turn out to have known each other for barely a day, is the core of a human Catherine Wheel, alive with low lives exploding out of their own misery to claw and tear at everyone within reach.

What makes Williams' film stand out from the larky likes of LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) is its grim refusal to glamorize its cast of down-and-outers. Stuart is a brutal sociopath oozing with contempt for less polished predators; that he's genuinely disgusted to learn that his father was a pedophile doesn't make him one bit less loathsome. Derek is pathetic — he's reduced to asking one of Stuart's strongmen to return the gun he had to borrow from a more successful felon — and vicious because he knows it. Even Kelly, who rises to the task of protecting Joanne, was willing to recruit her for Derek. They're all the products of poisonous environments, but they don't get a free pass for it; you can almost imagine Mike Leigh telling the same sad, sordid story. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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London To Brighton
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