Michael Caton-Jones is a name I hadn't heard in a while. You may remember him from earlier films such as "Memphis Belle", "Doc Hollywood", "This Boy's Life" (which set Leonardo DiCaprio as a serious actor) and "The Jackal", His last feature film was the ill-advised and poorly conceived "Basic Instinct 2" in 2006. His work since then has been in television.


This time, working with no-doubt a microscopic budget, Caton-Jones returns to his homeland in Britain to explore juvenile delinquents and social services. The film is centered around the 2011 London Riots which featured organized looting across England. The opening scenes are those of the riots and introduce two of the principle characters Jamie (Letitia Wright) and Leanne (Isabella Laughland) - two street tough and street wise orphaned girls.


Leanne is the bigger and tougher of the two and watches over Jamie like a mother hen. She doesn't allow anyone to come between them even as she carries on with whomever. The both live ins a juvenile home that allows the kids to live fairly independent lives and are loosely monitored by adult social workers. One of the social workers is newly hired Kate (Shirley Henderson) who is living down her own personal demons involving the death of her son.

A vacancy opens up the need for a new social worker to handle both Leanne and Jamie; Kate takes the assignment not knowing what she is in store from the two delinquents.


Immediately, Leanne lectures Kate of the rules and draws her line in the sand which Kate follows. But Leanne is in a constant state of trouble and when she is sent to jail, Kate uses that time to steer Jamie in a different direction. That different direction is toward music when she helps Jamie join a community choir.


The scheme works until Leanne gets out of jail and puts the kibosh on Jamie's activities with a firm warning to Kate. When Leanne and Jamie both get busted, it looks like the end save for the fact that Jamie gets an earlier release than Leanne.


Although the story is far from unique, the performances from the three lead are spellbinding, especially Laughland's Leanne character. She is a wild animal with not redeeming qualities except her viscous fighting ability. Truly, you will wince at the aggressive alpha dog brutality with which she lays into her opponents; even in prison. And even against males.


Henderson's performance will remind you of Sandy Dennis' similar role in "Up the Down Staircase" (1967) and Sidney Poitier's "To Sir With Love" (1967). Wright is both tough and pathetic though you like to see a higher ambition.


"Urban Hymn" is an oh-so predictable but super-engaging social drama that benefits from three strong leads and realistically well choreographed fighting scenes. These are tough gals!   -- GEOFF BURTON