London River

Film, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 3 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)
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London River
Sotigui Kouyat and Brenda Blethyn in London River
Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn) is a nervy, bilingual widow and smallholder living on Guernsey, and Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté), an ageing, solitary French-domiciled Muslim African and forester. Two people worlds and cultures apart, brought together in London in the immediate, tense aftermath of the July 7 2005 bomb attacks. As a frenetic Elisabeth criss-crosses the hospitals and police stations of Islington searching for her student daughter, her path constantly crosses  that of Ousmane who is on a similar quest to find his long-estranged son. It soon transpires that their respective offspring were a couple: are they dead or alive, possible victims or even, unthinkably, perpetrators?

There’s awkwardness and truth in equal measure in the first British-based film from French-Algerian Rachid Bouchareb, director of ‘Days of Glory’. The film is as interested in the effects of catastrophic events on people’s behaviour and the possible fallout it might cause for multicultural relations as it is in the specific events of the 7/7 tragedy.

There’s a sense of representative caricature in the characters of ‘London River’, made more obvious by the primary contrasts and plot contrivances Bouchareb favours. That is mitigated, however, by the calm overall tone he adopts, the objectivity of his long-shot location work and the expanding emotional space he allows his two main protagonists. Elisabeth’s trajectory from ignorance to knowledge; from her (our?) initial xenophobia – ‘This place is absolutely crawling with Muslims!’ – to greater understanding through the processes of intimate contact takes an age to lift off. But in the film’s latter stages, Blethyn’s heart-on-the-sleeve acting style finally combines with the marvellous Kouyaté’s watchful intelligence and frail dignity to moving effect.

By: Wally Hammond


Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday July 9 2010
Duration: 87 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Screenwriter: Rachid Bouchareb, Olivier Lorelle, Zoé Galeron
Cast: Brenda Blethyn
Roschdy Zem
Sotigui Kouyate

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

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I don't think I've seen a film so powerful all year. Both Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyaté were nothing short of excellent - I was totally convinced by their acting. This is a superb film - I was really impressed. I feel Time Out should have awarded this film 4 stars, as that's what it gets from me. More like this, please.


We enjoyed it: having been out of the country at the time of the event it was interesting to experience some connection with it, particularly as the location was very familiar. It is of course a work of fiction, and so you have to take some things with a pinch of salt - like the easy access to land lines, which is most unlikely in rented flats. And the landlord just giving the key over to a stranger. But there you go: it is only based on fact but still managed to convey how harrowing a time it must have been. Good acting, particularly from Blethyn. I did really like the fact that it was roughly half in French (with subtitles) and half in English: that made it very contemporary to me, and I imagine is a smart move in terms of marketing. Worth seeing.


Beautiful and painful at the same time, mostly thanks to the tremendously good cast.


The lack of subtlety and lumbering pace rendered this a chore to watch. Once the audience twigs that there's a girl in Kouyaté's photo who bears a striking resemblance to Elisabeth's daughter, we have to wade through minutes of screen-time before the revelation hits the two characters. The denouement is even more implausible; given that Elisabeth's predilection for high anxiety only intensifies as her search for her daughter proves bootless, her blasé expressions of relief upon learning that she'd booked a holiday that day, seem implausible indeed. Once again, we spend an age anticipating the policeman's inevitable knock. Likewise, Blethyn's a sufficiently skilled actress to communicate her character's Islamophobia tacitly without recourse to the clankingly obvious statement that gets quoted in the final paragraph, but the script won't leave anything to the imagination. This would matter less in a film that had more emotional resonance, but there was a rankling failure to be true to recent history. Elisabeth visits England at least two weeks after the bombings, by which time, as I recall, police had identified the victims and informed their relatives. The film seemed to go to some length to generate cheap pathos from painting the police as hard-nosed and unsympathetic, which is almost insulting to the Met's actual response. It's difficult not to generate a piece of moving cinema, given the subject matter and two strong leads, but the hammer-headed nature of much of the script rendered London River irksome in the extreme.