London Town

Studio: IFC Films
Directed by Derrick Borte

Feb 21, 2017 Web Exclusive
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The world British punk rock band The Clash came to prominence in, and the politically charged nature of their work, calls for something special should anyone choose to bring it to the screen. Director Derrick Borte and screenwriter Matt Brown certainly find a different angle with London Town, weaving Joe Strummer into a standard coming-of-age drama. That is doesn’t work should hardly come as a surprise given the somewhat leftfield choice already outlined.

Strummer is a side note for much of London Town: an appealing aspiration for young Shay Baker (Daniel Huttlestone) who desperately wants to break free from the constrictions of teenage life in Wanstead. He lives with his father Nick (Dougray Scott), an odd mix of passive and domineering, and his young sister Alice (Anya McKenna-Bruce). Early scenes show him taking a beating from local bullies, lamenting the lack of opportunities in town, and pining after Sandrine (Natascha McElhone), his absent mother who ran off to central London to become a star.

It’s this world that eventually calls to Shay, first through a cassette sent in the post by his mother, and then via an impossibly cool teenager he meets on the train. Played by Nell Williams, Vivian is the ongoing love interest offering another escape from dreary home life, especially when his father suffers an injury moving a piano forcing Shay to keep the family afloat.

The plot synopsis suggests a rather mundane progression of events, and that’s exactly what London Town delivers. Hampered by incongruous dialogue and a failed attempt to marry this insular story to the broader problems of the day, Borte’s film struggles to reconcile punk obsession with domestic strife. When Shay and Vivian turn up to watch The Clash, it’s a fuzzy and lackadaisical experience. Even the post-gig scrapping feels muted. The same problem afflicts the 1978 Victoria Park Rock Against Racism concert, used here as little more than an excuse to show skinheads and punks fighting.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ Strummer is left out alone as a result. He’s thrust into a series of unlikely encounters to deliver advice and generally act cool. It’s as if the film is a fanatical fan finding any excuse to spend time in his presence even if it serves no purpose. Meyers is actually rather good in the role; a bundle of energy wrapped in a well-weighted manner. But it doesn’t feel like The Clash has much to do with anything else going on, which is a shame when the scenes involving Strummer are by far the best. The rest of the time it could be any family trouble taking place at any time.

Author rating: 4/10

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