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 The release of Urban Hymn is timely then, but sadly the historic significance of the riots is upstaged by the outdated plotline.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

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…

Alternative Valentine’s Day Events

Alternative Valentine’s Day Events

Valentine’s Day has the manifold ability to both excite and inspire dread in the hearts of the population. Whether you’re loved up, happily single, coupled up…

Ghost In The Shell Rerelease

Ghost In The Shell Rerelease

Just before Hollywood’s remake, starring Scarlett Johansson, is released in March, the original, the mother of all anime, comes back to London’s cinema screens on January 25…

The BFI’s Martin Scorsese Season – What To See

The BFI’s Martin Scorsese Season – What To See

The BFI commemorate Martin Scorsese this January and February with a season of films to run alongside the film-maker’s latest release Silence, in cinemas now. The…

Rediscovering: Donnie Darko

Rediscovering: Donnie Darko

It seems only fitting that 15 years after its original release Donnie Darko is looping its way back into cinemas. The time-travel teaser has been…

Top 5: Films Set In London

Top 5: Films Set In London

These top five films set in London will outshine any bus tour through the traffic jammed inner-city, and offer you front-row seats on the journey…

A Guide to Harry Potter in London

A Guide to Harry Potter in London

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your ordinary life as a muggle, a resurgence of Pottermania has come to London.…

FILM REVIEW: The Eagle Huntress

FILM REVIEW: The Eagle Huntress

When you think Mongolia, you probably think Genghis Khan: a (supposedly) bloodthirsty warlord who conquered most of Asia and Europe and collected the skulls of…

FILM REVIEW: Sully

FILM REVIEW: Sully

An age-old tale of man versus machine, Clint Eastwood’s Sully finds tension aplenty but struggles with its “true story” tag.

This House - An Interview with Phil Daniels

This House - An Interview with Phil Daniels

This House opens tomorrow at The Garrick Theatre and explores the political uncertainty and fight for power within the House of Commons in the 1970s,…

More inspiration...

Electricity: The Spark of Life at the Wellcome Collection

Electricity: The Spark of Life at the Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection's latest exhibition focuses on the so-called silent servant - electricity.
A Guide to Indian and Pakistani Food in London

A Guide to Indian and Pakistani Food in London

There's such an overwhelming choice of Indian food in London that it's sometimes hard to choose. Luckily, we've picked out the very best Indian and Pakistani food from across the city.
Top 5: Places to Celebrate Pancake Day 2017 in London

Top 5: Places to Celebrate Pancake Day 2017 in London

It's the most wonderful time of the year - Pancake Day! Find out where to enjoy the best Pancakes in town with our guide.
Pushing the Boundaries of Heritage - The National Trust present Queer City

Pushing the Boundaries of Heritage - The National Trust present Queer City

The National Trust's latest project is a world away from its traditional reputation, delving into the queer spaces of Soho to amplify LGBTQ+ voices and stories.
‘I like to take journeys away from myself’ – An Interview with John MacMillan

‘I like to take journeys away from myself’ – An Interview with John MacMillan

We speak to actor John MacMillan about his challenging new role in Philip Ridley's latest play Killer.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!