You've likely seen this story before: a do-gooder helps a troubled teen by nurturing her talent. However, "Urban Hymn" is so carefully and lovingly made by director Michael Caton-Jones and his leads that it's hard to begrudge the British drama its familiar premise, especially as you squint at the screen through tears.
Kate (Shirley Henderson) is new to social work, and she is initially surprised by the violent behavior of the children she meets. She notices that one of the rebellious girls, Jamie (Letitia Wright), has the strong voice you'd expect to hear on a soul record. After Kate brings her to choir rehearsal, Jamie thrives with her new purpose, but she struggles to shrug off her painful past and the harmful influence of her best friend, Leanne (Isabella Laughland).
Beyond its moving story, "Urban Hymn" differentiates itself with Jamie's specific talent. It isn't just that she's good at something; it's singing itself that saves her. Both the communal experience of shared harmony and the moment of shining in the spotlight change her and her outlook.
Character actress Henderson is as strong as ever in this leading role, wearing her weariness as well as her joy with equal transparency. Wright is a marvel as Jamie, as adept at scenes of anger and fear as she is soaring through a solo. The actresses lead the audience through the film's emotional highs and lows, making us feel every moment with them.
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills