Kelly (Lorraine Stanley) is a prostitute, forced by Derek (Johnnie Harris) her bullying pimp to find a child to satisfy a ruthless gangland boss’ sexual appetite.
When things turn nasty, Kelly escapes with 11-year-old Joanne (Georgia Groome) to the uneasy peace of Brighton. But gangland does not forgive or forget and soon Kelly and Joanne realise that they are being followed.
Paul Andrew Williams used to make pop videos and he has brought all his imaginative flair, learnt in that very different business, to his first feature film.
Williams wrote the script over a weekend and then raised, by Hollywood standards, a very small budget but the result is a very classy film that looks a million dollars.
The story is a simple one – a tart with a heart and her innocent friend go on the run and the bad guys come after them. It's a short film at 86 minutes and, in reality, it could have been made as a television hour, but Williams has spun his material into a small, but stylish masterpiece of suspense that never lets us go.
The narrative style is simple too. The chase, from London to Brighton, is inter-cut with flashbacks of the messy and sordid incident that forced Kelly and Joanne to go on the run.
Throughout the movie, the editing is so well timed, even radical, and the camerawork and lighting so vivid, that we never feel any sense of inevitability.
Not having much money to spend, the director lets his and our imaginations compensate for the lack of filming days and the small number of locations. He's learnt that you do not have to show everything for a scene to make its impact. Sometimes partially revealed images, cleverly lit close ups or even shots of almost total darkness are used to glamourous effect.
Williams can make a great spectacle out of simple means too. When Kelly and Joanne are lead into the paedophile’s mansion, the camera follows the three characters, in one long beautifully controlled shot, which matches the ceremonial pace of their steps with the delicately ominous tones of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The tension is unbearable.
When we're allowed a panoramic view, it's of a gloomy, very unglamourous and semi-derelict Brighton seafront with its gaudy pier and angry sea or a London of boarded up shops and damp graffiti-daubed back streets. Charles Dickens would recognise this territory.
The central characters owe something to Dickensian high drama too. Not just Duncan Allen, the quietly spoken paedophile boss (Alexander Morton) and Stuart, his sinister, creepy son (Sam Spruell) but also Kelly, the battered but kind hearted tart and Derek the bullying but fear-driven pimp.
Lorraine Stanley, as Kelly, is in complete possession of her character. In a fearless performance, she offers up her body to the camera with all its blemishes and bulges. Her tussled hair is pulled back to reveal her bruises, her closed blackened eye and her reluctantly given smile. She wears her injuries as tools of her trade, flaunting them, knowing that they will attract a certain type of customer who will pay more for the smell of violence and an extra tenner if she forgoes the condom.
Johnnie Harris makes Derek similarly vivid. He is no Al Capone, rather a shaven headed, flabby low flying middleman. A remorseless bully to the women he employs and a snivelling "yes man" to his superiors. Give him a gun and a defenceless victim then he is all man, disarm him and he’s as defenceless as a child.
Williams’ excellent director’s commentary (and question and answer session) reveals that he had never actually been to Brighton before he wrote the film – which he did in a single weekend – and that the whole thing only cost £80,000 to make, with much of the action shot in his friends’ houses and cars. He also reveals that the clever flashback structure was an afterthought, designed at injecting the narrative with some “pace and tension”. Eight deleted scenes, an alternative ending, and Williams’ 2001 short film, Royalty – on which London to Brighton is based – completes this thorough special features package.
Not so defenceless is the child at the centre of this story though. Joanne, as played by the impressive newcomer, Georgia Groome, is heart breakingly innocent and yet worldly wise. She succeeds in establishing her character amongst the big personalities of her fellow actors.
At times, her Northern accent slips into theatre school posh drawing attention to the film’s only weakness. There is a sense of middle class revulsion in the director’s response to the brutalities of urban life and this discolours his film. We're expected, like Joanne, to wish for an escape from the concrete jungle to a pretty thatched cottage in the country. Come to think of it, that was Dickens’ weakness too.
Don’t let that put you off though. This is a thrilling piece of cinema.
Staring: Lorraine Stanley, Johnnie Harris, Georgia Groome
Directed by: Paul Andrew Williams
Extras: Alternate ending, Deleted scenes, Making of documentary, Royalty, Director’s Q&A, Director's commentary, Georgia Groome audition tape