London Road  is a filmic adaptation of the National Theater play about the residents of the titular block in the small town of Ipswich, which was home to a series of brutal murders in 2006. The creators took segments of dialogue from interviews with the residents and fitted them to music to create a unique take on the musical genre that stars Olivia Colman and Nick Holder, with a cameo by Tom Hardy.
Certainly unique… London Road is a fresh take on the classic serial killer genre that is not always successful. By focusing the narrative on the neighbors of Steve Wright, the man who murdered five prostitutes before being arrested and tried, London Road eschews the gory details and whodunnit structure of classic serial killer stories and replaces them with the small town paranoia and shame that such actions leave in their wake.
…But not without its flaws. However, this structure, paired with musical numbers featuring lyrics taken directly from interviews with the real people upon whom the characters are based, fails to develop rounded characters or a true narrative arc. The story splits its time between the residents of London Road forming a homeowners association in order to reclaim their street’s legacy and the reporters covering Steve Wright’s trial, and for obvious reasons the trial feels more urgent and has a more natural dramatic thrust. Compounding this issue is the fact that the reporters are given nearly all of the catchiest and most interesting songs, rendering what was clearly meant to be a side story as far more interesting than the main plot.
Musical experimentation. All of which would be forgivable if the songs themselves were universally excellent, which they are not. Given the structural limitations of using only what the residents said “exactly as they said it,” the songs are comprised largely of repeated phrases and fragments overlapping one another. The best songs call attention to this repetition, like when cab driver Tom Hardy insists over and over that his fascination with serial killers does not mean that he is one. The musical highlight comes when a reporter flubs a complex line about a DNA expert’s testimony over and over, much to the chagrin of his cameraman. The worst songs are the ones that put too fine a point on the feelings of the residents and victims, like the truly dire dirge sung by the prostitutes who worked alongside the murdered girls. Ultimately, the songs largely fail to capture the moments of triumph that the residents of London Road experience, which means that the audience is left cold at the moments that are meant to be the most heartwarming.