Dir: Shane Meadows. UK. 2008. 75 mins.
Slight but charming, Shane Meadows’ latest almost-full-length feature was commissioned by cross-Channel train company Eurostar to give Somers Town, the working-class area of London that backs onto the new St Pancras rail terminus, its moment of celluloid fame. Meadows ran with the remit, and turned Paul Fraser’s 25-minute script into a 68-minute film starring Thomas Turgoose - the prodigious teen actor who was the revelation of This Is England.
There’s no denying that this winsome coming-of-age buddy movie shows the resulting stretch marks - but at the same time, the low-budget, between-projects nature of the exercise has given Meadows the chance to indulge the lyrical humanism that was already evident in the more substantial and dramatically satisfying This Is England.
It also allowed the director and his DoP Natasha Braier to take the risk of working in black and white, lending the dingy council flats, tatty cafes and hulking gasworks of this overlooked part of London a poetic, Euro-arthouse nobility.
Sales company The Works is testing the potential for a theatrical release with SomersTown’s low-key Generation 14plus premiere at Berlin.
It may have an uphill struggle, given the borderline 68-minute running time and the expanded-short feel of the story. But the enthusiastic audience reaction at the film’s first public showing proves that Meadows has the magic feelgood touch, and buyers may rise to the bait.
Turgoose plays Tomo, a young school-leaver who has left his uncaring family in Nottingham to try his luck in the big city. On the train he befriends the spinsterish Jane (Dickie); later he gets beaten up by a gang of street thugs, who steal his money and holdall.
Meanwhile, Poliah immigrant Marek (Jagiello/0 is slouching around indulging his passion for photography. Marek lives with his divorced father Marius (Czop), a hard worker and hard drinker who is working on the St Pancras station rehaul, and who leaves his son to fend for himself for most of the day and night. Meeting by chance and falling into an odd, uneasy friendship, Tomo and Marek are united by their problems with their fathers and their crush on older French waitress Maria (Lasowski).
Somers Town is the closest Meadows has come to straight comedy, albeit of the poignant lost-childhood variety: and some of the comic set-ups (like the bizarrre sartorial combos that the clothes-less Tomo is forced to wear after his bag is stolen) are worthy of vintage Mike Leigh. But serious drama is thrown into the mix too - especially in the carefully-poised scenes between Marek and his father (which take place in Polish).
It’s a shame that there’s not more chemistry in the odd-couple relationship: though incompatibilty is part of the point of the exercise, we’re never quite convinced that Tomo and Marek really get on.
But as in This is England, the observation of adolescent swagger and insecurity is spot-on. Sometimes the script leaves lose ends hanging (the Jane character simply disappears at a certain point), and sometimes it uses video-clip montage sequences to paper over gaps in the story.
But the bedsit-ballad soundtrack by Meadows’ friend Gavin Clarke works well in Juno-sort of way to establish the film’s credentials as an indie title with an audience that reaches well beyond the teen-movie demographic.
Eurostar Group Ltd
The Works International
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