Somers Town DVD review

One of the highlights of last year comes to DVD, and it's a further reason to dig out lots of Shane Meadows films...

Somers Town

Shane Meadows has yet to make a clunker. Twenty Four Seven. A Room For Romeo Brass. Once Upon A Time In The Midlands. This Is England. And of course the frankly stunning Dead Man’s Shoes.

Now we have Somers Town, a film that started out life as a promotional feature for Eurostar, gradually developed into a short film, and then finally found its feet as a full-length production. The interviews included on the DVD include one with Meadows that gives much more insight into the movie’s genesis and how he got long-time collaborator Paul Fraser involved, but more on those later.

Somers Town refers to an area of London around St Pancras Station and it’s the setting for an unlikely bond between wayward teen Tomo and kind, lonely Marek, a Polish teenager living with his labourer dad in a small flat. Yobbish Tomo comes down on the train from Nottingham to hang about on the streets of London as there’s nothing keeping him back home (we’re not told the full details of his situation) and quickly finds himself in trouble as he’s beaten up and mugged on his first night. A chance encounter with Marek leads to an uneasy start and then a blossoming friendship that eventually leads the pair into the arms of a young woman who both are fond of.

If you think this all sounds a bit whimsical you’d be spot on but where other directors may have put some cinematic gloss where it wasn’t needed, Meadows keeps things gritty and real, even filming in black and white to enhance the feeling of gloom that ultimately plays such a crucial role in both boys’ lives – Tomo because he seemingly has little to live for, Marek because his mother’s not around any more and his dad might as well not be. When they meet a young woman who seems flattered by all their attention, it brings some light into their otherwise all-too-dark worlds.

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Meadows’ now trademarked sense of underlying threat is still present, albeit in a far more toned down format than his other works. When a party held by the boys in Marek’s father’s flat gets out of hand, for example, there is a genuine sense of danger as he returns home to see the mess.

The film itself uses Meadows’ tried and tested technique of having his actors improvise scenes and dialogue, based around a rough outline. The results are excellent, with Turgoose, in particular, rising to the challenge and suggesting once more that here lies a fine acting prospect. The other standout actor is Perry Benson, another Meadows regular whose cheeky cockney routine adds warmth and humour whenever his dodgy neighbour character is on screen.

Meadows first walked away from this project, not wanting to be tied to a film that was being commercially funded. As it happens, he’s made his gentlest, most joyful movie yet and one that keeps his batting average up nicely.

Extras A bunch of poorly put together interviews works thanks to the insightful comments made by all concerned. Meadows’ explanation of the film’s origins and Turgoose and Jagiello’s understanding of their characters’ relationship with each other are interesting to hear, but it’s all over far too quickly, with only Meadows’ interview lasting over ten minutes.

Far more interesting is the hour-long Q&A session with Meadows and Fraser filmed at the Tribeca film festival, which gives much more insight into what went on during the shoot, as well as putting more flesh onto the background of Meadows himself and how he first got involved in the industry. Coming from a self-confessed loutish background and having spent time with some less than pleasant characters, a clearer understanding of where the inspiration for his subjects comes from shines through, as does his passion for filmmaking.

Add to those a trailer and some TV spots and you have a bunch of fluff surrounding a golden treat. More treats would have been nice.

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4 stars
2 stars

8 January 2009


1 out of 5