London to Brighton (18)

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The Independent Culture

You couldn't call London To Brighton an enjoyable film. Its opening scene sets the tone by having a woman with a black eye sharing a bag of chips with a sobbing girl in a graffiti-covered toilet cubicle, so it's not recommended for a pleasant Friday evening's escapism. But it's a brilliant debut, all the same, from a twentysomething writer-director whose vision of London's gangland belongs to the seedy, Mike Hodges tradition rather than the knockabout Guy Ritchie one.

All of the unknown actors are superb, but the star is Lorraine Stanley (left), who fearlessly stakes her claim to be the next Kathy Burke. Stanley plays a King's Cross streetwalker who rescues an 11-year-old runaway (George Groome) from a paedophile crime boss. The pair of them jump on a train to the seaside, and a tender but unsentimental mother-daughter bond forms between them. But Stanley's gormless pimp (Johnny Harris) and the kingpin's terrifyingly calm son (Sam Spruell) aren't far behind.

While flashbacks piece together the bloody misdeeds of the night before, the chase is concentrated into a nerve-racking 24-hour period. It's as taut as any thriller, but with all the authentic grubbiness of a social-realist tract.