Director: Shane Meadows; Release date: out now
There is something flawed about Shane Meadows' new film, Somers Town. It is a shame because he is one of the most exciting British film directors. This is England, Dead Man's Shoes and the three films known as his Midlands Trilogy portray a side of British society that rarely reaches our screens. In general his films are down to earth but uplifting, funny but brutal accounts of the lives of ordinary working class people.
In contrast Somers Town fails. One problem is that Meadows has strayed from his home ground of the Midlands. This is no bad thing in itself, but it shows because he doesn't know Somers Town - a neighbourhood close to London's King's Cross station. A scene in which Tomo (played by Thomas Turgoose who excelled in This is England) is mugged made me cringe. The muggers looked more like they were from Hampstead than Somers Town.
The complete absence of the Bengali population, or indeed any of the local population, created a false sense of what the area is like. It sounds harsh to say this, but it appears as a "white" film in an area that is exceptionally multiracial, the legacy of 150 years of immigration.
If you name a film after an area, then you'd expect it to reflect the reality of that area. Perhaps the film just shouldn't be called Somers Town.
Nevertheless Meadows doesn't duck the issue of immigration. By putting Polish workers at the centre of the film he creates a warm and sympathetic picture of the life for immigrants. This is the best aspect of the film. Indeed Marek (played by Piotr Jagiello), the 14 year son of Polish worker, is a far more authentic character than Tomo who has left a care home up north and come to London with nothing.
Their meeting and subsequent friendship provide the focal point of the film. The awkwardness of adolescence as it comes to terms with the adult world is portrayed brilliantly. However, apart from Marek's dad (Ireneusz Czop) the adult characters they encounter are barely credible. There are Graham (Perry Benson), a sort of Del Boy character, and Maria (Elisa Lasowski), a young French woman who works in the local cafe. The boys fancy this "older woman" without really knowing what's going on. Neither boy has a mother in their life and they crave affection, yet they are also beginning to explore their sexuality. So the boys are gutted when Maria returns suddenly to Paris.
It is the final scenes of the film that left me so disappointed. Absurdly, the boys save money to take the Eurostar train for a day trip to Paris to see Maria. The scenes in which they travel to and then arrive in Paris are reminiscent of a travel advertisement for romantic weekends.
Reading the production notes more thoroughly when I got home I discovered that the film was funded by Eurostar. My suspicion is that much of the claustrophobic feel of the cinematography - there are few characters, no local people and many moody shots of the new St Pancras station (stunning as it is) - is constructed to suit the needs of the paymaster.
I would love to know what Shane Meadows really feels about those final scenes. They are so out of character that I wanted to walk out of the cinema. They left me with a sour taste and the worry that the corporate world might steal one of our best directors.