Shay Baker (Daniel Huttlestone) is a fourteen-year-old boy who lives just outside of London with his divorced father Nick (Dougray Scott) and his young sister Alice (Anya McKenna-Bruce), but he feels his disadvantages a lot harder than many in his position. He wishes he could go and stay with his mother Sandrine (Natascha McElhone) in this summer of 1979, but his father will not let him go because she lives in a squat, and he feels she would be a bad influence on the kid, but this simply frustrates Shay all the more. When his mother sends him a cassette of the music of punk band The Clash, playing it opens up a world of possibilities that he was only dimly aware of - but how can he get from here to there?
London Town arrived in the year that punk rock turned forty years old, though it was set three years into the movement when it was either petering out or transforming into different avenues of music such as New Wave. The Clash, however, were still carrying the torch and as popular as they had ever been, though the only reason this film appeared to be set in this year rather than the point of the first explosion of the style was to use the footage of the Rock Against Racism gig that was featured in the actual Clash film, Rude Boy, and even then it was easy to make out the join between the old clips and the new material. Other than that, it was not so much mythologizing the band that concerned this, and more creating a magical figure out of their frontman Joe Strummer.
He was played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers doing a voice that sounded like Strummer with a cold, though all credit to him, he did sing the songs and could carry a tune. What he was not so convincing as was the man himself, who was treated like some sainted individual who would fly down on angel's wings to show up in the young hero's life at crucial moments, and indeed if you were expecting a Clash biopic this assuredly was not it, as Meyers was glimpsed once in the first hour, performing onstage, before taking a more active role in the final act. This left most of the drama as one of those coming of age yarns that littered twenty-first century cinema, especially indie cinema as this was an example.
And that story was somewhat hard to believe, though thankfully it did not go down the route of presenting a bunch of vintage props and soundtrack reminders and flooding the nostalgia senses with that, director Derrick Borte was more interested in his characters than slavish historical accuracy, just as well when it essentially made Strummer a fictional personality. Huttlestone was fine as Shay, though was required to scowl and pout for much of the time to indicate that things really were not going the boy's way, and he fumbled his way towards a romance with the mystery punk fan Vivian (Nell Williams) who was more worldly and able to get him tickets to his first concert. Scott offered a nice portrayal of a father who could have been a villain, but we were carefully made aware he was a decent man, while McElhone was stuck in deadbeat mum mode.
But that plot was more problematic, apparently inspired by the sixties cult movie Our Mother's House or the equally cult seventies based on a true story domestic drama of kids alone The 14 as Nick was injured in a piano shifting incident which handily got him out the way in hospital while Shay managed to find his feet. However, this involved such farfetched incidents as driving his dad's taxi while dressed in drag as an older woman to make ends meet, and getting arrested at the race riot then winding up in the same cell as Strummer, who imparts wisdom to him as if he were some kind of self-effacing but deeply sincere guru. This concept of hero worship spoke more to the ideals that fans hold their idols in than it did anything in reality, and you did not quite go along with that unless you were truly committed to the spirit of '76. All of which left London Town more indebted to another British institution, the Children's Film Foundation, not that they would have included a tiny little girl announcing "We’re fucked" at a moment of despair. With that in mind, its naïve enthusiasm was moderately endearing as long as you forgot about the historical aspect. Music by Bryan Senti.
[Dec 26th on VOD in the UK and Ireland, courtesy of Vision Films.]