You may have read about the early success of a new musical on the festival circuit called La La Land…but there is another film just coming to theaters that warrants your attention, especially if you care about the future of musical film. London Road is based on the much-praised National Theatre stage production and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

For one thing, there’s the subject matter: the effect a serial killer has on a working-class street in Ipswich, England. The lyrics are based on testimony and interviews given by various people who recount their feelings and experiences after their quiet neighborhood was rocked to its very core…and then, somehow, found a way to revitalize and reinvent itself.

Leading the cast is the glorious Olivia Colman, a chameleon-like actress whose presence has graced such varied films and TV shows as The Night Manager, Broadchurch, and The Lobster. She’s the kind of performer who effortlessly commands your attention, as she does here, playing one of the neighbors who takes a leadership position trying to defend and improve her home turf.

Tom Hardy-London Road

(Photo Courtesy of BBC Worldwide North America)

There is also a cameo appearance by the great Tom Hardy, who makes his singing debut onscreen as a taxi driver.

The songs are not particularly melodic or memorable; they are more like operatic recitative, complete with “uhs” and other figures of conversational speech. It takes some getting used to, but after a short while I found myself transfixed.

All praise to Alecky Blythe, who wrote the screenplay and lyrics, Adam Cork, who wrote the music and collaborated on the lyrics, choreographer Javier De Frutos, cinematographer Danny Cohen, and stage director Rufus Norris, who has only directed one film for television.

This innovative feature makes me sorry to have missed the play, which apparently was quite different in a number of ways. All I know is that London Road is a singular achievement. I know it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I found myself transported.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024