“Nice isn’t it? To see a bit of color.”
So says Kelly (Stanley) as she looks at the green fields through a train window on the way from London to the seaside.
It’s a banal observation and yet so telling. There is no color in Kelly’s life. No joy, no hope, no normality. Every day is an animalistic struggle for survival. For Kelly is a terrified hooker with a pasty, smashed-up face on the run from her less than saintly pimp.
And who is she talking to?
An eleven-year-old runaway that she was forced to procure for a rich nonce, an arrangement, shall we say, that could have gone better.
As you can tell, London to Brighton is no Merchant-Ivory film. It’s a grimy, foul-mouthed wallow in the underbelly of British big city life. It features unprotected street sex, cowardly, manipulative pimps, a pock-faced gangster, an uncomfortable interrogation about the state of a child’s hymen, a straight razor being put to surreptitious use, and a constant sense of desperation and menace.
Kelly is like a rusty pinball, careening between shit-stained bumpers and potholed ramps, any one of which may lead to her doom. It’s easy to take the high ground and condemn her for initially sinking her streetwise hooks into the runaway Joanne (Groome), but a two-hundred quid finding fee buys a lot of fags. Plus, there’s the fact she’s got no choice. That’s one of the things poverty does: it eliminates options.
London to Brighton is a stellar directorial debut, clocking in at less than eighty minutes. It gets the grubby details of every scene right and should be lapped up by Mona Lisa fans. Stanley is excellent throughout, fully embracing the character’s shabbily-dressed, stringy-haired, chain-smoking mannerisms. She’s rough as guts (her first words are a bellowed fuck off in a graffiti-daubed toilet), an authenticity that’s never undermined by any trite speeches or bursts of working class wisdom. Crucially, however, she hasn’t lost her humanity and it’s her burgeoning relationship with an equally terrified surrogate daughter that offers her the chance to show that she’s a bit more than a bottom feeder.
Just for a cheery change of pace, Stanley next appeared in the hoodie-horror, Eden Lake.