Starting slap-bang in the middle of its action, Paul Andrew Williams’ award-winning, critical-smash feature debut bruises from the off. It’s got London, bad men, big guns, prostitutes and paedophiles. But this is no cartoonish, trigger-cocked tribute to any Lock, Stock mockney movies. Brighton doesn’t rock here. London doesn’t swing. Williams’ after-hours terrain is bleak but humane, tender yet tough. On a DVD-extra Q&A, he claims he did no research. He’s either fibbing or talented: his film stings like the real thing.
Cut back to the beginning, 20 minutes in. Kelly (a boldly unpolished Lorraine Stanley) is a hooker with a weathered heart. Her sleazy pimp, Derek (Johnny Harris), asks her to find a young girl for local gangster Duncan Allen. She finds 11-year-old Joanne (a naturally good Georgia Groome). Things go... not so well.
Flashback. The properly packed DVD extras include Royalty, Williams’ short film from 2001, which again stars Stanley as Kelly. Set among a not-so-regal small-hours King’s Cross parade, it sees Kelly getting roughed up on a night that looks bleak but is probably no worse than any other. It’s harsh but compassionate stuff. At its close, Kelly wanders back into the night, the story starting again.
So, back to now. Kelly and Joanne are in trouble. Duncan hurt them and they hit back. They’re bruised, beaten and on the run. Duncan’s scary son Stuart (an unnervingly calm Sam Spruell) orders a terrified Derek to track them down...
On the Q&A, Harris says he worried that two specific lines in Williams’ script might seem unduly comic. Williams reassured him, rightly so: the dialogue, direction and performances here aim straight and true. The choppy, flashback-driven structure never feels flashy. Confident, sure, but never indulgent.
Right here, right now. This is not the Brighton of Fatboy Slim’s beach parties. You will not wish you were here. The seafront is windswept, the back streets grim. The plot is thriller-taut but rooted in social realism. Williams might sound like a cocky bastard on his commentary and Q&A, but he’s made a proper film. He wrote the script in a weekend, he says. It cost $80,000 to make, with mates’ flats and cars used to keep costs down and lots of expositional dialogue cut in the edit. Urgency and economy work for it.
How does it end? Grimly, honestly. Redemptively? Maybe. Williams doesn’t wimp out but he doesn’t settle for cruelty, either. Giving nothing away, he takes us back to the start but tentatively hints at possible new starts. The result is an unflinching but deeply felt drama that doesn’t leave its characters stranded. In staying true to its material, Williams’ film hits you smack in the gut. It’s grim, sure, but it leaves you caring about what happens next.