We learn that the woman, Kelly, is a prostitute, and the girl, Joanne, is a runaway who has recently been lured into prostitution by Kelly and her pimp, Derek. It is Derek who Joanne and Kelly are hiding from. Derek, in turn, is living in fear of Stuart Allen, a scary, ice-cold underworld boss. Joanne and Kelly flee to the relative safety of Brighton, where they hope to raise the money they need to take Joanne to her grandmother in Devon.
Film-making in Britain must be a constant battle against pigeon-holing, particularly when you’re making a crime movie. Paul Andrew Williams, the director, clearly wants to distance his film from the sharp-suited, smart-talking gangster chic of Guy Ritchie. On the surface, the film has much more in common with the harsh social realism we recognize from Ken Loach and others.
The film’s portrayal of prostitution is brutal and sickening, and there’s a particularly unpleasant plausibility to the scene in which Derek and Kelly set Joanne up for her first assignment. Joanne is not even twelve years old, and the film is good at comparing Joanne, who is innocent but not very childish, with Derek the pimp, who is childish, but in no way innocent.
But any social commentary in London to Brighton is mostly incidental. London to Brighton is at heart just a very tense, exciting thriller. The performances, mostly by unknown actors, are important in helping maintain the tension. Johnny Harris brilliantly portrays the conflicting influences of stupidity and fear within the character of Derek, and Georgia Groome is incredibly good, and very affecting, as Joanne. However, I left the cinema feeling a little disappointed that London to Brighton was just a thriller – something about the brilliant way it is set-up made me think it might have amounted to something more.