Disturbed. Wondering. Exposed. Awed. Informed. Worried. Inspired. A roller coaster of feelings and emotion.
That was how I felt watching this film. In that order. Well, there may be a mixture of these along the way. It felt I was watching Dangerous Minds all over again, only outside an educational institution setting.
Urban Hymn has good music in it including the finale Car Crash, which reminded me of Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years.
BRWC’s review of the film: In the wake of the 2011 London Riots, Jamie, a female young offender finds her life hanging in uneasy balance as she’s torn between the love and loyalty of her dangerously possessive best friend, Leanne, and the nurture and guidance of her care worker, Kate. From the overbearing influence of her childhood friend she feels a belonging and sense of family, while Kate offers her encouragement and support of her musical talents, Jamie has to make the kind of decisions that will shape the rest of her life and define the woman she will grow to be.
Setting a coming-of-age drama in such a volatile time for youth culture will always have its advantages from a storytelling standpoint. From Rebel Without A Cause to Fish Tank there has always been uniquely unifying force that compels adolescents to kick back against the societal norms and a seemingly unjust world. When Urban Hymn is at its best, it is managing to encapsulate the vitriol and teenage aggression that ring true to its characters. The lead performances from Letitia Wright and Isabella Laughland are fantastic and provide a believable spite and venom, permanently clashing with their care workers.
Initially, our window into the lives of these troubled teens is through the perspective of Shirley Henderson’s Kate, a mousy, sympathetic care worker who runs the risk of being engulfed by the ferocity of her wards. While Henderson delivers a strong performance I feel it is the time spent with the adults where the screenplay dips into the problematic. Whether it be a dinner party discussion with wine and well-meaning friends, or meetings with the staff of the care home, the topic of troubled youths battling against the class system seems rather fudged. Urban Hymn has some pertinent things to say but occasionally fumbles in delivering its messages. The very nature of the, “us against them”, perspective makes for a compelling middle-class melodrama but lacks the courage to show more nuance in the rebelling teens.
The on-screen development of Jamie’s song writing talents representing her gradual assimilation into wider society and the use of choral works are an interesting choice but one wonders if its implementation is to make the grit and grime easier for the target audience to swallow. The overall message is a little heavy handed but for the most part it comes from a good place. That’s not to say Urban Hymn isn’t worth your time, just those expecting a hard hitting, documentarian style drama should probably look elsewhere.