Relative unknowns Nicky Bell and Liam Boyle star as Carty and Elvis in this football drama set in Liverpool in the late 1970s. Based on his own 1998 novel, writer Kevin Sampson’s screenplay tells of a young middle class boy, who joins a gang of hooligans intent on causing chaos around football grounds in an attempt to find belonging and identity, during the early months of Thatcher’s Britain towards the end of 1979.
Opening with a funeral scene, as Carty pays his last respects to his mother, the action moves to a smoky BR train carriage overrun with young casuals and knife wielding yobs, the film is quick to state its intent. Uncompromising in its portrayal of casual violence and strained friendships, the acting is rather self conscious and the two leading actors, (by necessity) playing not particularly likeable characters are very difficult to warm to in any way.
The costume designer, clearly given too much free reign, brings the casual fashions very much to the fore. Everything seems too new, consequently the clothing seems far too clean for the period. The late Seventies, as I remember them, at least, were hardly a hotbed of fashion. Blue, green or brown parkas were the order of the day for most. Stylish clothing and looking good wasn’t top of people’s concerns, especially donkey jacketed northerners with a ‘hard’ image to maintain. In a record shop scene, however, alternative fashions are more prominent: Elvis wears a long military style coat, not unlike Captain Jack’s from Torchwood and Carty sports a toggled duffle coat, clearly a Jonathan Creek fan!
It’s perhaps worth remembering the casual look, which is rather overstated here, gave way ten years later to the dreaded shellsuit. Can you imagine a film set in 1990 obsessed with shell suit ‘culture’? Me neither, but, no doubt, the day will come.
You can tell we are just weeks away from 2010 when the early 90s become a fashion hell, while the late 70s/early 80s seem cool again. Given fashion is so transient, it seems odd to me that gangs intent on violence against others sometimes knife their own if they don’t wear the right trainers!
There is a strange moment of acceptance, which seems at odds with the general tone of the film, as the middle class Carty reveals he went to art school and gets a positive response from the jealous working class Elvis, an art school reject. One presumes Carty keeps his art school background to himself on the terraces, especially as he’s already referred to as a ‘ponce’ by a particularly nasty rival casual.
There is a pleasing attention to period detail beyond the fashion. So we have genuine Austin 1300 and Allegro cars, surprisingly free from the rust that sealed their reputations. It would seem the last remaining Morris Marinas have all met their makers on Top Gear! Okay, so the same cars are cunningly used in several scenes in succession, almost to the point where they beg a suspension of disbelief, but Seventies cars are difficult to track down.
As with so many adaptations, the film ultimately falls short. When one reads a book the characters that come to life on the page also inhabit your thoughts. When an actor is allowed to inhabit a literary character something is lost because the reader’s take on the character rarely matches that of the actor.
The film does have a couple of redeeming features, however. There is the Joy Division soundtrack showcasing the late, tormented lead singer Ian Curtis’ plaintive vocals, and the especially positive and pounding track Young Savage. The main documentary extra is enlightening; pity there isn’t a commentary as that would have added another layer of interest. It has to be said, when the extras upstage the main feature there is something clearly amiss.
There is a decent documentary with the writer Kevin Sampson revealing how a potential scene featuring a troupe of Morris dancers being beaten up by the hooligans, with excitable, lyrical commentary by the great Stuart Hall, sadly, didn’t make the final cut. The producer David Hughes, had wanted to use a clip from Tom Baker era Doctor Who to help reinforce the late 1979 period detail (imagine the juxtaposition of City Of Death glimpsed in such a film?) The BBC’s permission wasn’t forthcoming given the violent context. Shame! Both these elements would have lifted the film considerably.
On The Bench is a frank and rather crude featurette focussing on the stars Liam Boyle and Nick Bell. Hardly insightful, the actors have few interesting anecdotes to share, but, to be fair, Liam Boyle admits he can’t express himself that well. The two main actors are, in fact, from Manchester and are Manchester United supporters, so the scouse accents, whilst not a great stretch, caused them problems when they had to keep them up at home.
The superficial tone extends to the questioning: favourite song on the soundtrack? favourite trainers? favourite item of clothing in the film? The fact the bloopers at the end of the feature are more interesting than much that went before speaks volumes!
Birth Of The Casuals is a short film featuring interviews with (refreshingly) genuine scouse sports shoe importers who helped to get the trainers right for the period. There’s a look at the European colours of the classic Fred Perry polo shirt. All very interesting up to a point (did you know Puma first invented the strap over trainer in 1969?), but to the non fashionista this seems an odd, rather repetitive bit of fluff, Jeff Banks, eat your heart out!
Auditions is a tedious audition tape reel which adds very little to the overall package.
Awaydays is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.