A racially-diverse group of children cause havoc until a teacher comes along and sets them straight. No, this isn’t about Stand and Deliver or Dangerous Minds. This is about Urban Hymn, yet another film which takes the familiar plotline and runs nowhere with it.
Shirley Henderson portrays a woman who works at a home for troubled children, where she finds one child who is fascinated with music and gets her to join a choir and turn her life around. Despite a great performance from Henderson, this film’s many glaring errors are too obvious to ignore.
The biggest error comes from the way the youths are characterized. The film makes an attempt at realism, starting in the 2011 Tottenham riots, but what results is a group of young characters who are so psychopathic and so cartoonishly evil that there is no way to feel any empathy for any of them. The fact that all the evil children are racial minorities, with the white children (and adults) being the constant victims of their cruelty just further causes a discord between the assumed message and the actual one. This is why the young woman’s change, as a result of joining the choir, comes off as so unrealistic, undermining everything that comes after it.
So, in the end, you wind up with evil children, helpless and perpetually abused adults, and unrealistic social reform – the sorts of things more suited for an exploitation film than a slice of life British classic. The biggest problem with this film, however, is that it will sell! The production is so condescendingly sentimental that it comes with its own built in audience – people who will insist upon its quality because they left the cinema in tears. Those people may well love it, but its status is unquestionable: Urban Hymn is an exercise in sap without a hint of originality.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam