SOMERS TOWN (Meadows, 2008. UK)

Posted: 03/02/2010 in Brit Flick, The Verdict
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SOMERS TOWN (Meadows, 2008. UK)

Somers Town is an odd little experiment. The first film ever to be exclusively financed through product placement, the details of the contract were a closely guarded industry secret. Despite the caginess however the grubby thumbprints of corporate intervention are all over this brief DV ballad. With an auteur so established in his tropes and tendencies as Shane Meadows interference on the part of unpop-cultured suits was always going to be as discomfitingly obvious as a shaved Persian cat.

The first point of contention is the setting. Nottingham native our Shane breaks out in a rash if he ventures south of the Gap, yet he has, without precedent, set an entire film in the Smoke.  He can’t quite shake off these roots; the film begins with young Tommo (This Is England star Thomas Turgoose) on a train from his midlands hometown. En route he makes a Single Serving Friend© of a Kindly Stranger, a nice business woman who seems to the young man a good omen and to the more cynical/ better versed in the rules of realist cinema among us  the instigator of a false sense of  security and optimism.

Proceedings begin consistently enough, with naïve Tommo coming a cropper in the big city, mugged and left bereft of phone, cash or even a change of pants. So far so London right? But as things look set to turn grim as for our Tommo, his Kindly Stranger cuts him a break and buys him lunch.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, Marek- a young Polish lad, potters about town with his camera like some sort of arty autistic savant, while the threatening man he lives with is hard at work building the shiny new St. Pancras. Spotted our product yet?

Tommo and Marek rapidly become fast friends (largely by necessity- knowing no one else their own age) and embark upon schemes and fall into scrapes in a kind of urban Boy’s Own fashion; they fall in love with a French waitress and devise ever more elaborate and misguided means to woo her.  There is a refreshing innocence to the boys’ hapless attempts to win the love of a grown woman. In an age of demonised youth, when British representation of our teens is as savvy, sarky and often sadistic, it is almost innovative to see genuine childish unworldliness.

There are a number of factors which need to be taken into consideration at this point:

1. This is, after all, England;

2. What’s more, this is Shane Midlands Meadows;

3.  There have been many allusions to menace and a shadow hangs over the boys.

So with this foreboding triumvirate of factors in the back of my mind, I couldn’t relax through the mostly harmless catalogue of boyish exuberance; I was on tenterhooks (whatever they may be) waiting for a devastating violent act to rip the bottom out of their dinghy, as is Meadows’ wont and anyone familiar with his work won’t be able to overcome the same distrust.

I won’t give it all away here [Look out for forthcoming post ‘Misdirection’] but there are a number of touching and improbable moments here. Meadows’ customary rough-edged humour is evident in abundance, as is the oft-overlooked good nature of many of the unique and aberrant denizens of London Town once you get beyond the faceless corporacy of the City and into the real city.

Somers Town continually threatens to become a Shane Meadows film and the viewer tenses in trepidation of a nasty misadventure or violent confrontation. The continual sense of impending catastrophe makes for rather unsettled viewing. When you are a filmmaker who has built a strong genre reputation and had widespread critical and commercial success for turning out a specific type of product, you have to be aware that each new offering bears the weight of your cannon behind it, and a sudden about turn to produce light-hearted or feelgood fayre will not sit well with your established audience. Perhaps he could find a new or wider market, but his loyal fanbase may lose faith in their prophet.

With its slight running time and succession of allusions and set-ups which never pay off, Somers Town does smack of brutal and complex cinematic pearls cast before corporate swine and the subsequent indiscriminate editing. If you can put the director’s back catalogue from your mind there is much to enjoy here. Given the bleakness of most quality British cinema (Yes that was a not-so oblique dig at Richard Curtis) it is quite novel to see something else, but you feel the positive elements of this film as an absence of negativity. Could it be our national tendency to pessimism is inescapable? Whatever the reason, for me and my viewing companions there was something lacking in Somers Town, something unsatisfactory and its good nature cannot countermand that.

  1. […] Meadows’ output is of the ilk that transcends genre labelling. The Midlands Man’s last effort Somers Town, however, as I have commented, was a rather unprecedented about face in many respects and it could […]

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