Urban Hymn

Drama exploring the lives of two troubled teen following the 2011 London riots

Film Review by Rachel Bowles | 29 Feb 2016
Film title: Urban Hymn
Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Starring: Shirley Henderson, Letitia Wright, Isabella Laughland, Ian Hart

Opening with the 2011 London riots, sparked by the police killing of unarmed young black man Mark Duggan, Urban Hymn follows two POC teenagers, Jamie (Letitia Wright) and Leanne (Isabella Laughland), and their hard knock lives – a gruelling cycle of violence, 'choring', alcohol, drugs, care homes and correctional institutions. Kate (Shirley Henderson) leaves a prestigious job as a university lecturer to become 'lost cause' Jamie’s case worker, determined to help her by channelling Jamie’s rage and despair productively through music.

Despite director Michael Caton-Jones’ aspirations to make a 'Ken Loach musical', Urban Hymn invokes pressing socioeconomic issues – poverty, inadequate social care, institutional racism, but often fails to tackle them meaningfully, reverting to wish-fulfillment and over-egged dramatic twists. There are times, foreshadowed by Cameron’s speech on the riots, when Urban Hymn almost functions as a fairy tale of Cameron’s Big Society, where happy endings are possible through the voluntarism of the rich. Urban Hymn's strength lies in its strong female leads, particularly Laughland’s visceral turn as the volatile Leanne, who manages to perfectly capture the complete lack of self-worth that comes from utter social disenfranchisement.

Urban Hymn screened at Glasgow Film Festival.

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