London River Movie Review
Elisabeth (Blethyn) is a widow living in Guernsey, and when she hears about the 7 July 2005 bombings, she immediately phones her daughter in London to make sure she's OK. When she can't reach her, she heads to the city, quickly realising how little she knows about her life there. Meanwhile in France, Ousmane (Kouyate) also decides to head to London to find his son, whom he hasn't seen since he was 6. Soon, these two people realise they're on the same trail, and that their children knew each other.
The film is a bundle of unspoken fears and prejudices, as these two people are instantly wary of each other even as they realise that this might be the only link they have to their child. But it takes awhile for them to trust each other. Most striking is Elisabeth's resistance to work with a Muslim in the wake of what looks like an Islamic terrorist attack. And Blethyn catches this perfectly, never trying to apologise for Elisabeth's attitudes but also showing that Elisabeth knows it's an irrational fear.
These kinds of subtleties are what makes the film fascinating to watch. Both Blethyn and Kouyate pack their still, realistic characters with emotion and tenacity. As they interact they're genuinely surprised to discover that they actually have some things in common beyond their children. And while there's a constant sense that they're heading for the worst news imaginable, there's also a glimmer of real hope.
Into the mix are some small but key roles for a local imam (Bouajila), the neighbourhood shopkeeper (Zem) and the policeman (Magee) helping them in their search. And filmmaker Bouchareb lets the plot develop slowly and naturally.
There are a few moments that ring false, but the complexities of the characters make the film thoroughly involving, especially as it probes some challenging issues in a way that can genuinely help us understand what's really important in life.