Urban Hymn (15.)
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones.
Starring Shirley Henderson, Letitia Wright, Isabella Laughland, Ian Hart, Steven Mackintosh, and Shaun Parkes. 117 mins.
The Heroic Inspirational Teacher movie is a well established minor genre – there's one along every three to four years – but the Heroic Inspirational Sociology Lecturer turned Social Worker movie might prove to be rather less appealing. Still there are Heroic Inspirational anythings these days – chefs, choir masters, etc – so why not?
Shirley Henderson's is the liberal do gooder, turning her back on academia to work in a care home for children who have dropped out of the system. Letitia Wright is the problem youth she wants to do good to – spotting a singing talent to be nurtured by having her join Henderson's community choir and ease her out of her spiralling descent into crime and drugs, in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. Opposing her is bezzie mate Laughland, who is actually rather content with the crime, drugs and prison life and doesn't want her spoiling it.
The film's trajectory isn't any kind of Billy Elliot – if nothing else there's a bit too much bad language, including the C word to make for a cosy uplifting tale. And yet for the most part it feels soft. Living in London, it can often seem like society is split between a well meaning, politically correct middle class, who have successfully codified an encompassing series of tolerance diktats to cover all human behaviour; and an over ground underclass that seem determined to take all that liberal tolerance to as degraded extremes as possible. (Somewhere in the middle there must be a bunch of reasonable, all right people around, but you never seem to see them. We should form a club and go out for a non craft drink.)
The film expresses that divide rather well. The key though is what judgement it will make on it. Possible Spoiler – ten minutes from the end it comes up with a shocking moment that really says something about the gulf in understanding between these two worlds, that knocks you back in your seat and makes you think the film was actually on to something. The film though seems so shocked by this that it spends the rest of the film hastily backpeddling from it and trying to make out everything's still OK and it didn't really happen.