London, 1979: Amid political and social upheaval A fifteen-year-old hears the music of The Clash for the first time, opening up a new world of social consciousness, anti-establishment defiance and first love.
Daniel Huttlestone (Into The Woods, Les Miserables) channels a pimply-faced, English teen country boy who is attracted to life as a punk rock star after receiving a package from his estranged mother containing a cassette of The Clash. Shay meets juvenile delinquent, Vivian (Nell Williams) on a train ride to London. Vivian, resembling a Desperately Seeking Susan era Madonna, introduces Shay to mini-bar liquor and shares more “insight” into The Clash music through her Walkman. Vivian, a devout fan of The Clash, preaches the anti-establishment, anti-rich message later revealed as a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The unsophisticated Shay is visibly enamored by Vivian and the glamour of London after attending a performance at a dive club with her. He is out of place in his preppy white pressed shirt and gray sweater.
Directed by Derrick Borte (The Joneses), London Town contains clever camera shots and angles to enhance the edgy and claustrophobic feel as well as monotone chromatics emblazoning the late 70s aesthetic feel. A scene where punk rock fans and political activists overrun a club is filmed handheld and jerky effectively portraying the crowded and chaotic atmosphere.
Huttlestone shrewdly portrays the lead character, Shay, who walks a fine line between the responsible young man of the house to the daft bullied teen coming out of his shell who loses his virginity to a derelict, Vivian. After an accident left his father, Nick (Dougray Scott) unconscious and in the hospital, Shay must take over the duties of generating income. Shay converts the family piano store into a cutting edge music shop. Since Shay’s father moonlights as a taxi driver, the story takes an interesting turn when Shay contemplates driving for much needed income. Especially enjoyable is a scene where Vivian helps Shay learn to drive, followed up by a transformation so that Shay can convincingly drive his father’s taxi at night without question as an underage and unlicensed driver.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ portrayal of The Clash front man, Joe Strummer, is intense and magnetic. Adding authenticity to the film, Meyers sings all of the Clash songs that performed in the film. Legendary music producer, Steve McLaughlin, produced them. The film’s definitive moment occurs when Strummer is jailed and ends up in a cell with Shay overnight. The radical and edgy aura of Strummer inspires Shay with the courage to stand up to the gang of bullies who have continually taunted him. Additionally, Shay makes a bold move by announcing a concert by The Clash at the music store to generate business without first obtaining permission from The Clash or informing them of his intent. Shay’s daring action culminates in a surreal moment.
The set design and props are impeccable containing a truly 1970s feel down to the detail. From the horrible orange flower wallpaper to the gaudy velvet tapestries to the ambulance parked in front of the hospital, every scene is a work of art.
The screenplay is based upon a previous version entitled “The Joe Strummer Project.” While the set up and pacing in the beginning is somewhat slow, the second half of the movie is quite charming and enjoyable. If there is a flaw in the film, it is that Joe Strummer and The Clash are merely an essential vehicle to the transformation of Shay. The film contains small snippets of music from the band, including a short performance in an underground, edge 70s-tastic club set.
London Town includes quite a bit of nostalgic 80s culture. Fans of The Clash might be disappointed in the minimal amount of music. Yet Strummer’s presence in the film is what is so rousing. He represents the entirety of the film; the nihilistic aesthetic is essential to understanding the liberating revelation of Shay.
London Town opens in select theaters and VOD on Oct. 7, 2016.
For more information, please visit LONDON TOWN.