Film review: London Road (15) ***

Anita Dobson in London Road.
Anita Dobson in London Road.
Mel Gibson as Kurt Mayron, Mark Wahlberg as Dusty Mayron, Will Ferrell as Brad Taggart and John Lithgow as Don Taggart in Daddy's Home 2. Picture: PA Photo/Paramount Pictures/Claire Fogler.

CHERYL GIBBS: Not a great film, but I still balled my eyes out

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Event cinema – live screenings of theatre and opera productions, exhibitions, music concerts and other entertainment – has become increasingly popular and lucrative.

The National Theatre in London has been at the forefront of this revolution, broadcasting more than 20 productions by satellite since June 2009 including Phedre with Helen Mirren and Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.

In a neat reversal, the theatre’s artistic director, Rufus Norris, embraces the cinematic medium with this daring screen version of the critically adored verbatim drama London Road.

The ground-breaking stage work, which premiered in April 2011, documents the real-life discovery of the bodies of five women in Suffolk in 2006 in the words of residents of the titular Ipswich street.

‘This is what they said. Exactly as they said it,’ confirms the film’s sombre opening credits.

A media scrum including journalist Simon Newton (Michael Schaeffer) descends upon Ipswich, where locals are gripped by fear after the murders of five women, who all worked as prostitutes in the area.

The ground-breaking stage work, which premiered in April 2011, documents the real-life discovery of the bodies of five women in Suffolk in 2006 in the words of residents of the titular Ipswich street

The residents of London Road including bubbly mother Julie (Olivia Colman) and enigmatic neighbour Dodge (Paul Thornley) are obvious targets for TV crews because prostitutes continue to tout for business outside their homes.

Two giggling schoolgirls wander around a local cafe, casting accusing glances at men and whispering: ‘You automatically think, “It could be him”.’

A creepy taxi driver called Mark (Tom Hardy) is one possible suspect, telling a passenger that he has a fascination with serial killers, but that doesn’t mean he is one.

When London Road resident Steve Wright is arrested by Suffolk police, battle lines are drawn between locals, invasive media and the working girls, represented on screen by Vicky (Kate Fleetwood).

By expanding London Road from the claustrophobic confines of a theatre stage, Norris’ film lacks some of the electrifying tension of its original incarnation.

The original 11-strong cast, who embodied more than 70 characters, reprise roles on screen, flanked by more recognisable faces including Colman and Hardy.

Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork’s innovative musical score is still impressive and Javier De Frutos’ accentuated choreography looks terrific on a wider canvas.

The rhythm, pitch and metre of Blythe’s recorded interviews are replicated in the sung dialogue, which is a far cry from the usual verses and soaring melodies of big-screen musicals.

However, audiences should persevere because there are moments of startling brilliance captured by Norris and his team.