Urban Hymn ***Dir: Michael Caton-Jones. With: Shirley Henderson, Ian Hart, Steven Mackintosh, Letitia Wright. 114 mins. Cert: 15
2016 will go down as the year British cinema began to wrestle with the 2011 riots. Set against July’s documentary The Hard Stop, Michael Caton-Jones’ drama risks appearing a perilously soft option the moment juvenile care worker/keen chorister Shirley Henderson overhears delinquent diva Jamie (My Brother the Devil’s excellent Letitia Wright) singing Etta James in her bedroom. Thereafter, we’re watching committed actors nudging Nick Moorcroft’s scenario away from a very familiar, naggingly complacent groove. The riot backdrop certainly recedes from vision, a convenient prompt for teaching the world to sing anew, yet a stronger second half pushes in unexpected directions. Here, Jamie struggles to disentangle herself from damaged roomie Leanne (a snarling Isabella Laughland) – and Caton-Jones’ achievement is to make this a greater challenge than any acapella arrangement of, say, “Don’t Stop Me Now”. A mixed bag, then, but one that comes good in its closing stretch, working its way towards a place of quiet power.
Urban Hymn is now playing in selected cinemas.