A Hymn to opportunity

Urban Hymn is due for its UK release on 30 September and you should see it if you've been fortunate enough to grow up in a family, or ever been given an opportunity or ever met someone you want to help, or if you have a human bone in your body.

This is a film to move you. It moved me to want to support more initiatives like Billy Bragg's Jail Guitar Doors, which provides one of the pivotal moments for two of the trio of great women at the heart of this film.

Beginning with TV footage of the looting from the summer 2011 riots on the streets of the UK, the film has a lot more to say about some of the putative stories behind those images.

There are some deeply memorable moments around music in Urban Hymn, particularly some of the early juxtaposition between Jamie (Letitia Wright) singing through a cloud of smoke and care worker Kate (Shirley Henderson) as part of a community choir. Another clash comes with tomb stones - one to Jamie's mother and one to Kate's son. And a third graveyard scene which is just heart-breaking.

As she prepares to sing the final song in the film (and the music throughout is beautifully used to fill in some of the gaps in the story), Jamie explains her song is about opportunities, and why you should always take them. The trouble is, I guess, that sometimes people take the wrong opportunities presented to them.

Which brings us inevitably to Jamie's best friend, Leanne (Isabella Laughland). Best friend but certainly worse influence. For very, very understandable reasons. Laughland is definitely one to watch. Her portrayal of Leanne's descent as Jamie moves on up is physical and gut-wrenching. There is not one of us who could take that constant stream of rejections without it having an effect, although explaining something doesn't mean you can excuse it.

The two most shocking moments of violence in Urban Hymn are followed by characters whispering in Jamie's ear - "You'd better be good" and "Make her proud". We all have angels and devils on our shoulders and sometimes they both have the right message.

Director Michael Caton-Jones (Memphis Belle) and writer Nick Moorcroft (St Trinians 1&2) excelled themselves and this went straight to the top of my list of 2016 films. A lot of that's for the broad spectrum of music and how it's used. About the music, Caton-Jones sums it up: "The transcendental power of music and how it can transport you to somewhere else, how it can cheer you up when you’re sad, how it can remind you of something, is possibly the overall theme of this film. That power of music is something that I feel very strongly about. I kind of wanted to make almost a musical but not one where people break into song all the time, but where the singing was actually an integral part of the story."