An engaging tale of adolescent friendship and love amongst London’s lower social echelons, Shane Meadow’s Somers Town, follow-up to his acclaimed 2006 social drama This is England, shows that there is a level of optimism in this director’s view of life in today’s England.
Named for the London suburb in which it is set and filmed, Somers Town follows the fortunes of 16 year old Tomo (the second feature role for Thomas Turgoose, the non-professional star of This is England) who has travelled down from the midlands to get away from his nothing life up there. Without much, in terms of both worldly goods and a plan, Tomo finds himself living on the streets of Somers Town and is soon set upon by a group of older boys who relieve him of what little money and clothing he possessed. He gains temporary relief from the generosity and compassion of a Scottish woman Jane (Kate dickie – Red Road) who he met on the train trip to London. The meat of the film really begins when Jane buys Tomo breakfast at a café where he later stumbles upon young Polish immigrant Marek (Piotr Jagiello) who has limited English and a penchant for taking photographs with his beaten old SLR camera.
After a slightly shaky start – Tomo acts aggressively and runs off with Marek’s photographs – the boys strike up an unlikely friendship which sees Marek hiding Tomo in his bedroom (so that he has a place to stay) and the both of them falling for the beautiful and affable young Parisian waitress Maria (Elisa Lasowski – Eastern Promises) who works in the café where they met. The relatively brief feature (only 71mins long) sees the boys experience a series of adventures, and firsts, as they journey through their adolescence.
Like Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Elephant, Paranoid Park), director Shane Meadows has a deft touch for telling stories of adolescence (A Room for Romeo Brass, This is England) and shooting young people in a way that captures the fluid essence of youth without feeling patronising or forced. Somers Town illustrates the strength and beauty of friendship as well as its often illogical development. Marek and Tomo are certainly not two peas in a pod but their cultural differences matter less than their shared sense of isolation and the unique challenges they are facing, living in the cusp between childhood and adulthood. The adults in the film are not demonised but are given rich characters in their working class context. Marek’s father, Mariusz (Ireneusz Czop) is hard working and loves his son, but struggles to be a single working dad and sometimes prioritises drinking with his work buddies over time with his boy. Graham (Perry Benson – The Black Adder, This is England) a local working class opportunist – in the mould of ‘Del Boy’ from Only Fools and Horses – lives in the same block of flats as Marek and his father. He both exploits the boys by getting them to work for him at atrocious rates but when crunch time comes he gives Tomo a place to stay and food to eat when he finds himself back on the street.
Despite being shot in HD digital Meadow’s film feels as gritty and dirty as the subjects that he follows and the place where they live. He and long-time writing partner, Paul Fraser (A Room for Romeo Brass, Dead Man’s Shoes) once again display their innate ability to imbue realism in both their characters and plotlines. These people may be characters but they are true to life, and true to their context. Take the character of Graham: he is that uniquely working-class London blend of silver-tongued entrepreneur and classless cretin. Meadows ensure that the details are spot on, from the Arsenal T-Shirt Graham ‘gives’ Marek which is emblazoned with the player name “Terry Henry” (the French footballer’s name is actually Thierry Henry) to the fact that Graham keeps his money in the front pouch of his tiger patterned G-string?!
Somers Town doesn’t dull the effects of relative poverty but evidences the joy of young lads growing up despite their hardships. A film that is both moving and honest, it is also unexpectedly uplifting and optimistic. If you can get to this film then I would make the effort. If not at the festival, then when it returns – which it should undoubtedly do – sometime over the coming year.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Duration: 71 mins
Genre: Social realist drama/comedy (black & white)
Director: Shane Meadows (2008)
Actors: Thomas Turgoose, Piotr Jagiello, Perry Benson, Ireneusz Czop, Elisa Lasowski, and Kate Dickie.