phone mail2 facebook twitter play
REVIEW: Urban Hymn
Image Credit: Eclipse Films

REVIEW: Urban Hymn

1 October 2016 Stephanie Brandhuber  | Entertainment

Set in the aftermath of London’s 2011 riots, Urban Hymn is a misguided attempt to shed light on our society’s neglect of the socio-economically underprivileged. Well-meaning but embarrassingly unconvincing, Nick Moorcroft’s latest film is painfully unaware of its own offensiveness and its problematic nature.

I don’t quite know what makes me angrier about this film: the fact that it’s 2016 and we’re still being fed films about a “white hero” saving disadvantaged people of colour off the streets, or the fact that this film completely belittles the seriousness of the 2011 riots through a saccharine and utterly skewed view of it. Either way, I’m baffled that this film was not a direct-to-DVD release or indeed relegated to the Lifetime Movie channel.
 
Urban Hymn’s story focuses on young offender and orphan Jamie Harrison (Letitia Wright), whose time at the Alpha House children’s care home is soon coming to an end as she nears her 18th birthday. Jamie’s best friend Leanne (Isabella Laughland) is her hard-as-nails, crack-smoking, partner in crime and the two of them are responsible for wreaking havoc both in London’s streets as well as in the care home. Their mutual contempt for the staff at Alpha House has earned them both a reputation for being lost causes, and it is assumed by all the staff that their futures will be behind bars. That is, until Kate (Shirley Henderson) joins the Alpha House team as a care worker and takes on Jamie as her special assignment. After hearing Jamie belting out Etta James in her room, Kate becomes determined to help the young girl achieve a more fulfilling path than the one she’s on, and invites her to join her painfully middle-class choir group. However, as Jamie becomes more involved in her musical aspirations, Leanne grows increasingly jealous of Kate who is monopolizing her best friend’s time and Jamie finds herself torn between loyalty to her friend and the prospect of a brighter future.
 
This year marks the 5th anniversary of the London Riots, and we have had a number of films, exhibits, and TV specials this summer reminiscing about the violence London underwent and the heroism our citizens demonstrated in the face of it. The release of Urban Hymn is timely then, but sadly the historic significance of the riots is upstaged by the outdated plotline. Urban Hymn is yet another film in a long list of movies that are guilty of sweeping generalisations about the economically under-privileged, perpetuating an image of crime, drugs, and under-education. It’s old-fashioned in its assumption that the only way non-white people can succeed in life is to be surrounded by white people, and this missionary-esque subtext is not only infuriating but also toxic in its narrow-mindedness.
 
Urban Hymn doddles along a join-the-dots script until the end when surprisingly, the director decides to throw a fly into this dull, clichéd ointment. It’s a shame that the two main young leads, Letitia Wright and Isabella Laughland did not have more to work with script-wise as their performances were nonetheless commendable despite the poor quality of the narrative. Shirley Henderson too did a fine job in her role as care worker Kate, and again, it’s disappointing seeing this accomplished actress wasting her talents on a role with such little depth.
 
Predictable, cliché, and disappointingly narrow in its view of not only our city but of society as a whole, Urban Hymn is exactly the kind of film made by a director who is too preoccupied lauding the sanctity of the middle classes than to think about a film with any kind of originality or realist vision, or to try to get to grips with the realities and complexities of social mobility. While studios and directors churn out film after film of CGI aliens and alternate universes, I’ll be waiting over here for a film about an underprivileged girl, from any ethnic background, who dreams of being a doctor or a scientist or any manner of profession, and who doesn’t have to deal with outdated concepts of race, class, and sexuality. Who knew that was less realistic to expect than blue aliens and spaceships. I’ll be waiting.
 
2/5 stars

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Free Fire - An Interview with Ben Wheatley

Free Fire - An Interview with Ben Wheatley

Ben Wheatley’s films are sick and twisted in the best way possible. With Free Fire, the genre experimenter goes for pure fun, delivering a 70s-set action-comedy…

Brexit, moving to London and Denial - An Interview with Rachel Weisz

Brexit, moving to London and Denial - An Interview with Rachel Weisz

London born and Cambridge educated, Rachel Weisz has wowed audiences from her breakthrough role as Egyptologist Evelyn in The Mummy to her Oscar-winning performance as…

‘You don’t want to play the goofy sidekick or best friend characters anymore’ - An Interview with Dev Patel

‘You don’t want to play the goofy sidekick or best friend characters anymore’ - An Interview with Dev Patel

Born in West London, we first saw Dev Patel on our screens in the anarchic Bristol-based TV drama Skins, before he got the biggest of…

Beyond Moonlight: BFI Flare LGBT Film Festival

Beyond Moonlight: BFI Flare LGBT Film Festival

It is now fifty years since the 1967 sexual offences act was passed. What better way to celebrate the progressing freedoms of the LGBT community…

London Asian Film Festival: Interview with Pushpinder Chowdry

London Asian Film Festival: Interview with Pushpinder Chowdry

The London Asian Film Festival returns this week for another packed programme of the best independent cinema from South Asia. We talk to the festival…

Kong: Skull Island – An Interview with Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Kong: Skull Island – An Interview with Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Jordan Vogt-Roberts has a confession: “I wanted to sneak an indie film into a big blockbuster”. The director’s speaking about Kong: Skull Island, a monster movie with…

Certain Women - An Interview with Kelly Reichardt

Certain Women - An Interview with Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt, in person, is more talkative than her wonderful, quiet films. As demonstrated by her past features – including Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and…

‘There is no better place than London - I just love its energy’ - An Interview with Actress Ruth Negga

‘There is no better place than London - I just love its energy’ - An Interview with Actress Ruth Negga

Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga is one of Hollywood’s most exciting rising stars. The actress has received countless nods for her performance in Loving, including most recently…

Oscars Alternatives: What to Watch Other than the Academy Awards

Oscars Alternatives: What to Watch Other than the Academy Awards

Tired of the Oscars? Yes, us too – and there’s still a few hours of endless hype and interviews left to go! No need to avoid…

FILM REVIEW: Moonlight

FILM REVIEW: Moonlight

The Oscars are just around the corner and the film world has been cleaved in two between awards hopefuls and everything else. Spare a thought…

More inspiration...

‘Being haunted by the past is something I’m creatively turned on by’ - An Interview with Brian J Smith

‘Being haunted by the past is something I’m creatively turned on by’ - An Interview with Brian J Smith

We spoke to Stargate Universe and Sense 8 actor about his latest role in the Glass Menagerie, the roles that most inspire him and the surprising purchase he made with his first acting paycheck.
Free Fire - An Interview with Ben Wheatley

Free Fire - An Interview with Ben Wheatley

Ben Wheatley’s films are sick and twisted in the best way possible. We talk to him about his latest film, Free Fire.
This Week 27 March - 2 April

This Week 27 March - 2 April

We find out what will be keeping you occupied in the capital this week.
The Best Places to Watch the Boat Race in London

The Best Places to Watch the Boat Race in London

Whether you're Oxford, Cambridge or (literally) somewhere in between, find out the best places to watch the Boat Race 2017.
Deutsche Börse Prize Exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery

Deutsche Börse Prize Exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery

This diverse exhibition takes in landscapes, travel diaries and post-modern self-portraits.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!