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Urban Hymn


Stars: Shirley Henderson, Letitia Wright, Isabella Laughland, Steven Mackintosh, Ian Hart, Shaun Parkes, Jack McMullen

Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Just when you think inspiring films about disenfranchised teenagers were a thing of the past, along comes this terrific, genuine tear-jerker from director Caton-Jones, who hasn't made a film for a decade. Once famous for such films as The Jackal, Rob Roy and Memphis Belle, Caton-Jones tackles this challenging genre with great success, handing a rare leading role to whisper-voiced Henderson as a 40ish lecturer who throws it all up to work with her borough's 'most disturbed children'.

Violence and anti-social behaviour are rife at Alpha House, where Kate (Henderson) works, but the film's focus soon turns to two of its 17-year-old girls, mad at the world and everyone within reach. Jamie (Wright) and Leanne (Laughland) are already veterans of looting at the 2011 urban riots and are pretty much out of control.

The mousy new care worker is soon punched to the floor by the dominant, inherently violent Leanne. But she sees a chink in the armour of Jamie; though as slightly built as Kate, she obviously has a fine singing voice. And Kate persuades her, with difficulty, to join her own multi-denominational choir.

The two have something darker in common: Jamie's mother left her and was later found dead, while Kate's husband (Mackintosh) was stabbed by youths after his phone.

Naturally, there are setbacks, and many of the developments are quite simplistic and predictable: Leanne and Jamie are jailed for their roles in the riots and a subsequent attack on other girls - but you might not be prepared for the rather shocking ending from a film that packs a real emotional wallop.

Wright possesses a marvellous voice, but occasionally has problems with line delivery, while the swaggering Laughland gives a much more confident performance. Apart from the multiple cuss-words, drug-taking and sex scenes, enough cigarettes are puffed within the movie to fug up an entire auditorium of the 1950s.

David Quinlan

UK 2015. UK Distributor: Bulldog Films. Colour (unspecified).
112 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 26 Sep 2016