When she turns 18 in nine months, Jamie Harrison will be thrown out of the London group home for troubled kids she’s been living in for years: she will be presumed to be capable to taking care of herself. It terrifies her, which isn’t surprising. Nor is it surprising that she has a very difficult time accepting the helping hand that comes in the form of a new social worker in the house, Kate Linton. When Kate, who has been desperate to make a connection with the girl, discovers Jamie’s not-so-secret talent — she’s an amazing singer, with a taste for Etta James and Northern soul — Kate invites Jamie to join her (nonreligious) choir. And so in a setting, the group home, that’s meant to substitute for family yet is all clinical and lacking in affection — the staff are prohibited from any physical contact with the kids, so hugs are out — Kate and Jamie stumble across the beginnings of a personal connection. The always remarkable Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones’s Baby), as Kate, and gonna-be-a-star Letitia Wright (she’ll be in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One), as Jamie, are absolutely magnificent as women lost in grief and pain (Kate is dealing with something terrible too) who come to each other’s rescue. They alone make the film worth your time. But there’s much more to recommend it. This is a startling portrait of girls at risk, something we don’t see often, and Jamie’s friendship with her best pal, Leanne (Isabella Laughland: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2), is challenged as Jamie looks to move beyond the tough coldness that has allowed them to survive; Jamie struggles with the possibility of turning her back on the only person who has stood by her in the past. The script, by Nick Moorcroft, avoids taking the expected turns; I was so glad to see it bypass one big cliché I was afraid was coming. And director Michael Caton-Jones (City by the Sea) keeps a clear, straightforward eye on it all, utterly avoiding all sentimentality and ending up in a place that’s very, very moving. This is a lovely film, and a very welcome one.
Urban Hymn (2016)
UK release date: Sep 30 2016
BBFC: rated 15 (very strong language, strong sex, sex references, violence, drug misuse)
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics