The Review: There is always the question with any human tragedy of “how soon is too soon?” to reflect on that tragedy through artistic media. It helps, of course, if the works produced are of a high quality and manage not to feel exploitative, a feat Paul Greengrass managed so expertly with United 93, his 9/11 drama. While there hasn’t been much focus on the actual events of what we have come to call 7/7, the London bombings still resonate to this day in our culture, and so there’s plenty to explore and to look for understanding in. London River uses a backdrop of the events of July 2005 to explore a range of issues surrounding the cultural and social impact of this tragedy.
Brenda Blethyn is Elizabeth, a Falklands war widow who has raised a daughter in Guernsey but has now seen her move away to study in London. Her peaceful life of working the land and trips to her husband’s grave is slowly shaken by the realisation that her daughter may have been closer to the events than she would have hoped. As she ventures into unfamiliar territory, her story is mirrored by that of Sotigui Kouyaté’s Ousmane, who’s looking for his son. But where the stories have similarities, they also have differences, not least that Ousmane hasn’t seen his son since he was a child, so doesn’t even know who he’s looking for by sight.
London River is dominated by the performances of Blethyn and Kouyaté. Blethyn perfectly embodies the middle England that remains isolated from the multicultural hearts of our major cities, stumbling through the streets as her understanding of her daughter crumbles. Her performance is understated and doesn’t have some of the extremes of mannerisms she’s shown occasionally, and is all the better for it. She’s still in sharp contrast to Kouyaté, at times wordless and embodying a restrained dignity as he attempts not only to find his son but to steer Blethyn along her course.
For a movie with a short running time and just two major characters, there’s still plenty to take from this experience. Ousmane’s Muslim background not only allows us to examine the attitudes of the characters toward their disparate backgrounds, but also through their eyes see the prejudices that the tragedy has served to perpetuate. Four Lions has already taken a much more comedic slant on cultural and religious issues around terrorism, and thankfully London River avoids too much comparison by covering sufficiently different ground in the same areas. There are brief elements of happiness but overall there’s a sense of gloom and ultimately the tragedy of the events of 7/7 is brought to the fore, and at the end there’s a tinge of optimism, but that’s all we’re left to cling to. A fitting examination of a recent tragedy, but one that still leaves future scope for further examination.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s not hugely cinematic, but director Rachid Bouchareb does make effective use of several long shots of passageways or roads to highlight the isolation of the characters.
The Score: 7/10