London Road isn’t an easy movie to explain, though it’s hardly the first one to transfer a successful high-concept play to the screen, or even the first to set murder to music. Based on the true events of Ipswich, a rural English town paralyzed by the violent unsolved deaths of five prostitutes there in 2006, the film uses only word-for-word quotes pulled directly from three years of extensive interviews with local residents, nearly all of it sung. It’s an admirably ambitious conceit: What could be more intimate and possibly even profound than hearing a compelling story from an underserved population firsthand, and finding a fresh form to deliver it in at the same time?
The result, alas, is totally bolloxed, as a Brit might say, by execution. Sweeney Todd at least had songs; here there are hardly melodies to speak of, just an interminable hour and a half of talk-singing in repetitive rounds. The actors are game almost to a fault, but the script make almost no effort to separate the inane from the illuminating, or delineate any characters beyond basic types; in the end, it all feels about as cohesive and compelling as having a bunch of strangers who sound like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins loudly hum the headlines from their local police blotter in your ear. (Maybe the whole idea translated better onstage?)
It’s also a mean trick to bill Tom Hardy so prominently; as a vaguely shady taxi driver, he has five minutes of screen time, max, before the real killer is revealed with approximately zero context and ceremony. But the movie’s cruelest omission may be the five women who gave the film its story in the first place: They were once real living residents of Ipswich too, but because of Road’s rules of engagement they couldn’t be interviewed of course—so you’ll never hear their voices, let alone learn their names. C-