Bypass is a moody and gritty thriller set on a council estate. There is definitely as much grit here as there are thrills. The action is never allowed to overshadow the well-researched and brilliantly realised social realism.
George MacKay gives a stunning performance as Tim, a boy trying to make ends meet by whatever means he can. At the same time he is trying to hold his disintegrating family together. Donald Sumpter makes fleeting appearances as Tim’s granddad. He represents a long lost world of stable employment and working class solidity.
The film is in part a lament for a lost industrial past. It’s about people forced into a life of petty crime, but the real drama and tension of the film are made up of swapping work shifts, keeping the back door locked and putting the heating on “just for a bit”.
The release of the film is timed to coincide with the general election, but it could have been made at any point in the last 20 years. It could also be set in any large town or city in the UK — which town is deliberately left vague. The characters and their relationships are what makes Bypass special though. The tension and claustrophobia — which are relentlessly cranked up during the film — are made unbearable because of how believable the principal cast are and how much you relate to them. Even for independent cinema this is a breath of fresh air.
Because of this careful character development, it earns the right to its dramatic moments. When the narrative drive takes over it works because by this point we care about the characters and their fate. Along the way there are some very clever touches and reflections on the shortcomings of modern TV and film drama that is often devoid of social content and fully developed characters.
Not everything about the film quite works, and the script maybe attempts to deconstruct one too many “broken Britain” clichés. Nonetheless this exciting, character driven and explicitly political drama is head and shoulders above much that is currently on offer.