Review: London Town
The biggest problem with Derrick Borte’s London Town is the unfortunate timing. A coming of age story about a young boy from the United Kingdom, hopelessly in love with an offbeat ingenue while discovering music that defined a time, place and generation, London Town shares quite a few themes with 2016’s wonderful Sing Street. And though its release may have been overshadowed by a similar (and better) film, London Town isn’t without its charm, telling a tired story with enough allure to keep audiences entertained.
Daniel Huttleston (who has made brief but memorable appearances in Les Miserables and Into the Woods) plays Shay Baker, a working class teenager whose father takes ill and he’s forced to hold the family together. When he meets a mysterious young punk (Nell Williams), Shay quickly finds himself enamored with her as well as with the fledgling punk-rock scene in 1970s London. However, the centerpiece of the film is the promise of Joe Strummer, legendary frontman for The Clash, played with unexpected magnitude by famous beautiful person (and actor) Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
London Town isn’t nearly as good as Sing Street. It suffers from a clunky script where the majority of the narrative is driven by sheer coincidence and silly contrivances (Shay’s first in-person encounter with Strummer happens by accident while driving his father’s cab for a bit of extra scratch—dressed as a woman to seem of age to drive a cab, like you do). London Town fumbles when trying to incorporate some of the socio-political elements that Joe Strummer fought against (and as a reminder: when he fought the law, the law one). But the script is a bit too clumsy to fit these social issues into the story organically and it often results in expository dialogue of characters over-explaining simple Strummer lyrics (it is punk music after all, not the most subtle genre). But for as lousy as the plot developments can be, the characters in London Town are delightfully portrayed archetypes of the coming of age tale. It’s a story we’ve heard time and time again, but it is also a reminder of why these charming types of stories are retold so often.
I am a huge fan of Joe Strummer and The Clash, so I may have been predisposed to finding the charm in London Town’s mythical portrayal of the famed punk. But the film has a reverence for the subject material that makes for a number of charming montages set to some of punk’s greatest tunes; in addition to The Clash, there are songs by The 101ers (Strummer’s pre-Clash outfit), Toots and the Maytals, and a number of other influential groups that helped create ska and punk rock. And even when the musical interludes are a bit clunky (compared to Sing Street, which makes its musical scenes integral to the film’s story), London Town has a charming reverence to the time and place that makes you smile even if you might want to roll your eyes. And even though Strummer isn’t in much of the film, Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ portrayal of him anchors the film’s dramatic and emotional tension (culminating in a final musical number that is as delightful as it is corny).
Craig is a writer living in north Florida with his wife and ornery dog. He writes about film and TV. He creates and publishes comic books under the label Gentleman Baby Comics. He's currently wishing his bio sounded more engaging.