Dir: Mark Herman. UK. 2000. 97 mins.
Prod cos: Elizabeth Karlsen, Mumbo Jumbo, London. Int'l Sales: FilmFour International. Scr: Mark Herman from The Season Ticket by Joanthan Tulloch. DoP: Andy Collins. Prod design: Don Taylor. Ed: Michael Ellis. Music: Ian Broudie, Michael Gibbs. Main cast: Chris Beattie, Greg McLane, Charlie Hardwick, Kevin Whately, Tim Healy, Roy Hudd.
Purely Belter is a story you want to like from the start, and you certainly do by the finish. But Mark Herman's tale of two Newcastle kids trying by every means at their disposal to find the wherewithal (£1000) to buy season tickets for Newcastle United Football Club takes a bit of time to get going and sometimes seems a bit flat. In the end, however, Herman, who adapted Jonathan Tullock's book The Season Ticket himself as well as directing, paints an affecting picture of hope triumphing over some pretty nasty early experiences of life.
The boys (touchingly played by Chris Beatty and Greg McLane) both come from broken homes. The younger of them has a father who, when he appears at all, beats up his mother, tampers with his sister who has left home and now sleeps rough, and steals from all of them. He doesn't go to school until bribed back by the promise of some match tickets, and the only thing that keeps him off smokes and drugs is the effort to save money for the season ticket. The older boy lives with his father and takes up with a girl whom he gets pregnant but finds she discards him for someone with a proper job. This is a world where idols are needed and England striker Alan Shearer fits the bill perfectly.
He's in the film briefly, smiling ruefully when the boys ask him for the season tickets before stealing his car on the way to robbing a bank so unsuccessfully that all they get is a torn £5 note. He's also shown performing on the football field. But Herman sensibly doesn't dwell on the game beyond showing us the Geordie stadium in all its glory on match days.
What he really wants to tell us is that the game of life is pretty hard for those at the bottom of the pile and the help they get is not the sort they'll readily accept. After the success of Brassed Off and Little Voice, Purely Belter seems to have a decent chance of at least a small commercial triumph.
If there is a model, it is Ken Loach's Kes in that he suggests the boys would be worth something if given half a chance in life. But he hasn't Loach's skill at turning a series of small, often funny details of working class life into something moving and relevant, nor can he orchestrate his cast with the same unerring sense of naturalness. His warmth for and sympathy with his characters, however, is obvious and his depiction of a Northern city mad on football is impeccable.