“London Town” is a coming-of-age story set among the turmoil of Thatcher’s England. During the era there were widespread labor strikes, and race relations in England were at an all-time low as The National Front gained power and threatened violence against immigrants. Shay, played by Daniel Huttlestone (“Into The Woods”), lives with his father, Nick, played by Dougray Scott (“Mission Impossible” and “Hitman”) and sister Alice, played by Anya McKenna-Bruce. Shay receives the gift of The Clash’s “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” from his free spirited mother, Sandrine, played by Natascha McElhone (“Californication” and “The Truman Show”). This transformative and defining moment listening to The Clash leads the 14-year-old Shay off on an adventure of self-discovery that lends to his becoming acquainted with his mother, finding romance, and a chance encounter with Joe Stummer, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Tudors”).
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Shay is confronted with a boring and humdrum home life, but awakened by the Clash’s urgent social commentary, which gives him a bigger view of the world. The music drives home his lack of connection with his mother and her world. Sandrine has abandoned the family for the bohemian life of an artist and musician in London. The exposure to The Clash’s music is the link that draws Shay to his mother and a bigger life experience. The small town world where Shay lives is stifling and filled with petty conflicts. Shay’s dad, Nick, has 2 jobs, one in piano sales and the other as taxi driver. Both jobs barely support Shay and his sister Alice, while only allowing minimum familial interaction, let alone any kind of social or cultural stimulation. This sleepy existence is shattered by an accident that leaves Nick hospitalized and the family in trouble.
This dramatic moment kicks off Shay’s search for his mother and for ways to save the family. His train trip to London is where he has a chance encounter with Vivian, a Punk girl. Vivian, played by Nell Williams (“Game of Thrones”), challenges his status quo in the most irreverent way and with a lot of good-humored spunk. He discovers their mutual interest in The Clash and a romance of sorts ensues. Amongst all this chaos, Shay finds time to attend Clash concerts, digs into the counter-culture, and works his father’s cab for extra money while his father recuperates in the hospital. He also learns a little about squatting and the DIY lifestyle.
Derrick Borte’s direction hits some key notes in telling this story by making sure you see trash and trash bags everywhere in London, denoting the workers strike. Borte really drives the energy up, in a visceral way, in The Clash’s free concert scene as the band breaks into “White Riot.” Yeah, you want to riot, really you want to riot as The National Front are confronted by Clash fans in a full-on brawl. I found myself caught up in the moment, singing along! This is where Shay becomes painfully aware of the politics of the times and the power The Clash brought to political commentary and social injustice. Shay’s chance meeting with Joe as a cross-dressing cabby, because it was easier to look like a woman than a man at his age, led to a friendship that binds the two together in solidarity. This is where Borte effectively locks the two together with a meaningful bond that captures the ethos and the culture of the times. Joe invites Shay to a band practice making the boy one of his mates, as well as a fan with an in-your-face performance of their music. It’s an exhilarating moment where that commonality of making music makes this story intimate and real for Shay and for those in audience too!
The bonding between Joe and Shay leads to Shay choosing a new direction for his life that transitions him into adulthood and transforms the way he encounters his life. Shay goes forward in true DIY fashion that wins eventual approval from his father and opens a new chapter for him and his family. “London Town” ends with optimistic expectations fulfilled and on the best possible note: that a dream can come true if you put yourself out there and trust in people!