When asked what intrigued him about London Town, director Derrick Borte said he wanted to direct a picture about a kid discovering The Clash. At its heart, London Town is a fairly stock coming-of-age story, complete with the near universal realization of the fallibility of parents. Mixed into the narrative is his discovery of the seminal ‘70s punk band, one that burns as bright as its characters, expertly played by the likes of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Natascha McElhone. Unfortunately, the end result is a bit muddled in its execution of the film’s basic premise.

Shay (Daniel Huttlestone) helps raise his younger sister while working in his father’s failing music shop. When Shay’s dad meets the wrong end of a piano and is holed up in the hospital, the young man finds himself alone and with no money and a sister to raise. His only solace is in the music of The Clash and its charismatic lead singer, Joe Strummer (Rhys Meyers).

London Town is an interesting miasma of ideas that wonderfully capture a feeling, if not necessarily nailing down a story. Shay grows up in a Britain not too far removed from the U.S. of today, where people decry the rise of immigrants and other “riff-raff” ruining the titular city’s integrity. Despite the historical outcry regarding punk’s influence on British youth, its negative influence is rarely mentioned within the context of the film.

Daniel Huttlestone, known for his roles in other musical-based properties like Les Miserables and Into the Woods, conveys Shay’s sense of liminality. He cooks dinner and raises his sister, actions his father see as more like that of a wife. Yet the boy wants to belong somewhere. When his father is laid up in hospital, Shay finds himself in a Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead situation of trying to find an income on his own. Huttlestone’s casting is rather fortuitous as he’s an actor transitioning from scruffy preteen into adult roles and Shay bridges the divide between the two with another musically-infused performance, albeit without any in-character singing. He presents Shay as a confused young man who never had a proper childhood, but knows more about being an adult than those around him.

Elsewhere, his relationship with the rich girl on the down low, Vivian (Nell Williams), veers a bit too much into melodrama. But their tender love scene – each declaring they don’t know what they’re doing – expertly illustrates the balancing act between adolescence and adulthood teens face. They believe they know everything until they’re presented with a situation they can’t even pretend to understand.

Shay’s coming-of-age is rather standard, so the introduction of the Clash gives London Town its strongest touchstone. Here Joe Strummer is an accessible figure who Shay finds by simply asking around. Strummer’s involvement is muted and limited to a few key scenes, preventing this from turning into a Clash biopic. These scenes have the tendency to turn him into the friendly neighborhood bloke who gives great life advice just when you need it most. He’s almost like a Mister Rogers or Wilson figure in terms of prodding Shay to appreciate his dad more, later helping to save Shay’s dad’s shop in the eleventh hour. If your experience with The Clash is limited, however, you won’t learn anything about them from the film.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers does a lot with a minor character like Strummer. Borte and cinematographer Hubert Taczanowski come alive when capturing Strummer and his band, getting up close as if this was a concert film (you’ll almost wish it was). The band’s raucous music grips and attacks the frame as Rhys Meyers and the band jump around.

There’s a great supporting cast here outside of Rhys Meyers and Huttlestone. As Shay’s dad Nick, Dougray Scott takes a character who could have been a caricature, that of the disapproving father, and infuses him with empathy. Shay’s desire for rebellion is understandable to Nick who once was a musician, but like all parents he wants his son to learn life isn’t fair. He’s the straight arrow to Natascha McElhone’s free-spirited Sandrine. Looking more like Meryl Streep every day, McElhone’s vibrancy is contagious. She’s utterly gorgeous but possesses an unpredictable and magnetic soul.

Shay is understandably drawn to her but, like realizing a loved one is a drunk, there’s a limit to her irresponsibility. A sudden illness for Shay’s sister plays like false suspense to introduce Sandrine, and its resolution leaves McElhone looking more callous than she should be. The script seems too content to color her in very black and white terms rather than fleshing out a living, breathing person.

There are moments here and there that make the narrative feel a bit reined in. Shay’s father losing his shop feels akin to a plot in a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movie – “Let’s put on a show to save the rec center” and all that. There’s little preceding information to back it up, short of Shay knowing the family is in dire straits, but the film plays it as something that’s been there all along.

“Some people burn bright” and London Town wants things brighter than they should be. Factoring in London’s issues and how the Clash fits in, the film wraps everything up in a neat bow. However, London Town contains plenty of good intentions, some fantastic set design, a luminous cast anchored by Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ magnetic portrayal of Joe Strummer. If you’re a fan of British music-themed dramas like Sing Street or Pirate Radio, London Town is right up your alley.

  • Better Start Running

    It’s doubtful you’ll remember much about Better Start Running. …
  • Private Life

    Private Life is an intimate drama we’ve seen before, but it leads to so many provocative q…
  • Hot Summer Nights

    Hot Summer Nights is a wannabe ‘80s teen comedy, with a dash of Scarface. …
  • Holy Hell! A.I. Artificial Intelligence turns 20

    Despite its title, A.I. Artificial Intelligence delves deeply into what it means to be hum…
  • The Swordsman

    The Swordsman is not a new Zatoichi film, but it’s the next best thing: a stark climb of a…
  • Blithe Spirit

    Following in the footsteps of David Lean’s 1945 adaptation, Hall and company keep their ta…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Better Start Running

It’s doubtful you’ll remember much about Better Start Running. …