out of Five
Running time: 87
Engaging, thought-provoking and powerfully emotional, this is an impressively directed, sharply written drama with terrific performances from Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyate.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Rachid Bouchareb, London River stars Brenda Blethyn as Elizabeth, a widowed Guernsey farmer who travels to London to search for her missing daughter when she can't get hold of her after the horrific bombings on 7th July 2005. Unnerved by how little she really knew about her daughter's life, Elizabeth becomes suspicious when she keeps crossing paths with elderly African Muslim Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate), only to discover that he is searching for his estranged son and that their children knew each other.
Brenda Blethyn is terrific as Elizabeth, delivering a naturalistic, thoroughly convincing performance as a kind-hearted woman struggling with both her own irrational prejudices and her fear of the unknown. Kouyate (who sadly died earlier this year) is equally good as Ousmane, exuding a quiet dignity that is genuinely moving.
In addition, there's strong support from Sami Bouajila (as the local imam), Roschdy Zem (as Elizabeth's daughter's Muslim landlord) and Francis Magee as a sympathetic police detective.
The script is excellent, unfolding partly as an emotionally charged detective story, partly as a topical, thought-provoking drama about prejudice and partly as a touching drama about two lonely people finding unlikely solace in each other in the face of terrible tragedy – in this respect there are echoes of Richard Jenkins and Hiam Abbass's relationship in Thomas McCarthy's excellent The Visitor.
Bouchareb orchestrates several quietly memorable scenes, such as Elizabeth and Ousmane wordlessly sharing some slices of apple – it's these accumulative details of their tentative relationship that ultimately form the heart of the film. There are also several intriguing observational touches, such as the fact that Elizabeth's first stop is the police station, while Ousmane begins his search at the local mosque.
London River is a sharply written, impressively directed and superbly acted drama that packs a powerfully emotional punch. Highly recommended.