Cass

Issue section: 
(327)

Director: Jon S Baird; Release date: 1 August

While there is nothing to be celebrated in groups of working class men beating the hell out of one another in the football club firms of the 1980s, Cass offers a view beyond the tabloid screams about broken society, poor parenting and demands for brutal retribution on those involved.

Cass is the true story of Carol "Cass" Pennant - football casual turned bestselling author. Born of Jamaican parents, he was adopted from Barnardo's orphanage by a white couple from London. His given name, Carol, did nothing to stop the torrent of racist abuse he endured as a child, so he decided to take the name Cass from Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali).

Early scenes show the vicious racism that blighted his everyday life. We first see Cass as a baby, being adored by a neighbour outside their London home. But this affection turns sour when the woman looking at him says to his adoptive mother, "They're so cute at that age, before they get the curly hair and big lips." We next see an eight year old Cass scrubbing at his black skin to look "like everybody else", only to be bullied by racist kids on his way to school. At this point Cass decides to fight back, and starts to gain respect for sticking up for himself.

With this background it's little wonder that whenever racism rears its ugly head, Cass resorts to muscle and violence to earn himself respect. During the 1980s, as unemployment and racism hit new heights, Cass found that joining a gang of West Ham casuals allowed him to quite literally fight his way to the top.

The story of adult Cass (played by Nonso Anozie) is about the extreme violence of football firm clashes, and the consequences of living this life. But at the same time the story is placed firmly in the context of police brutality and racism, and the attacks on society by Margaret Thatcher. At one point, as we see footage of police clashing with football rioters, Cass refers to the police as "the biggest firm of all".

The acting in Cass is on the whole excellent. And despite the fact that Cass is a guy who has produced a fair share of horrific violence himself in his time, you are drawn to him as a rounded character, and understand that society created the person he became. At every turn racism seems to prevent Cass following any sort of constructive route in life.

In the context of the current outcry over gun and knife crime this is a worthy addition. It's not poor parenting or genes that create "anti social behaviour" - it's a system which pits ordinary working people against one another from the very beginning. Definitely worth a watch.