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August 25, 2008
Somers Town, 2008: Dir: Shane Meadows
Good to see that Shane Meadows has released another film Somers Town after his success with This is England which successfully represented the feel of the Northern (post)-industrial working class youth in Britain at the time of the Falklands war and its problems of dcoming to terms with identity in this rapidly changing society. Somers Town again stars Thomas Turgoose who played the pre-teen skinhead in This is England. I haven't had a chance to see it yet but this time the setting is London in the Somers Town area which you are unlikely to find on a map of London however it is situated in the St. Pancras / Kings Cross part of London. The film is sponsored by Eurostar and started life as a short which mutated into a full-length feature film.
The film was entirely shot on digital video and is mostly in black and white. It won the Michael Powell award for best new British feature film. Generically it is something of a 'coming of age film' in which Tommo (Thomas Turgoose) is a young runaway from Nottingham. After some trouble on arrival in London Tommo meets Marek the son of a Polish construction worker on the rebuild of King's Cross as it turns into the hub for the Eurostar train. It is a story of scams and adventures and there is a love interest over the French waitress Maria in cosmopolitan London. The film is in a much lighter vein than This is England. The Sight and Sound review spends a lot of time drawing comparisons with the British film culture of the 'Swinging Sixties' which turned from social realism / kitchen sink drama into a lighter vein via Billy Liar. A slight puzzle in this review is the notion that Thomas Turgoose is:
...a Rita Tushingham for our more tangled times...
I would have thought a Julie Christie might have been a better analogy. In Billy Liar she does make the break to London whilst Billy Liar signally doesn't. Christie's character then tranmutes into the 'Darling' girl in Schlesinger's next film called Darling with Christie's switch to swinging London. Tushingham goes from holding the social realist baby in Tony Richardson's Taste of Honey to Richard Lester's The Knack which was her switch to the swinging sixties. In terms of directorial interest perhaps this signals a shift in Meadows' approach, for most of the social realists of the late fifties early 1960s produced films in a lighter vein later on but with a strong political satirical edge. Richardson's Tom Jones, and then Charge of the Light Brigade, and Karel Reisz's Morgan a Suitable Case for Treatment and of course Lindsay Anderson's 'If' all moved from the somewhat dour British social realist paradigm for film making to political satires. By comparison Lester as an American initially linked with the Beatles films came from a rather different background. Here the satire was absent and the films were far more straightforwardly celebratory reflecting a surface mood. Realism of course does try to look under the surface to expose and critique the underlying processes of society.
Certainly the reviews linked to below have quite different takes upon the film. The Independent review is perhaps the most insightful one and isn't afraid to cut through the nostalgia and whimsey which by the sounds of it suffuse the film. If it is more like The Knack than the work of the post-social realist British directors of the 1960s then as the Independent puts it the lack of dramatisation:
...should bother anyone who claims Meadows as one of the great hopes of British film-making.
At this point I'm unable to comment on whether Meadows has managed to bring in some useful insights to bear into the globalised economy which has led to diasporas in the labour markets in a way that Ken Loach did in It's a Free World for example. However these are important issues to bear in mind when viewing Somers Town. Currently analogies to the Knack seem to indicate that Meadows has missed an opportunity here. I shall develop this debate further once I've seen the film. In the meantime hopefully the links will be of use to readers and provoke some general thoughts about issues of representation of the global working class and the role of British cinema within this.
Official Trailer of Somers Town
Shane Meadows' Somers Town takes top Edinburgh award: Guardian June 30th 2008
Independent review of Somers Town. Downloadable trailer available.