Somers Town (2008)
Director: Shane Meadows
Screenplay: Shane Meadows, Paul Fraser
Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Piotr Jagiello, Elisa Lasowski, Kate Dickie, Ireneusz Czop, Perry Benson
The happenstance friendship central to Shane Meadows' Somers Town buds within a small black-and-white world, an environment populated with aesthetic lines, distinct or unseen, that stretch retrograde towards an urban horizon. Convergence is not merely suggested through contrast and forms, but is realized as ubiquitous in the neighborhood around the film's young men.
A district of London in the shadows of St. Pancras railway station, Somers Town is at a point of transition. New construction and redevelopment abut decades-old council flats and working-class cafes. Rather than lament gentrified encroachment and its broad social meanings, Meadows (with screenwriter Paul Fraser) instead finds the modest possibilities of unlikely friendship.
Returning from Meadows' last feature, This in England, Thomas Turgoose is rascally charming as the homeless Tomo, a runaway from the Midlands. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Turgoose's real-life nickname is Tommo.) A genial ruffian of easy wit and misplaced confidence, he befriends introspective and shy Marek, a Polish immigrant portrayed thoughtfully by Piotr Jagiello. The two do very little but interact with good-natured humor, often in regard to a local French waitress. Plot is mostly absent, but opportunity and limitlessness are conspicuous.
Even at only 71 minutes, Somers Town, which was nominated for four British Independent Film Awards in 2008, is stretched and minor – but always worthwhile. (Film Movement is releasing it on DVD in the US today.) Shane Meadows never resorts to a gimmick or flash to suggest the youthful currency of now. The director does, however, thoughtfully employ commercial sensibilities to relate the commonality of experience. Despite the casual wandering central to Somers Town, these youths and the world that surrounds them are on a journey that may extend beyond preconceived limits.
Somers Town was funded by Eurostar, the high-speed rail passenger service between London and Paris (and Brussels) via the Chunnel. Its trains disembark from St. Pancras station, so it is reasonable to scrutinize the film as clever marketing propaganda. Certainly the black-and-white cinematography and jangle-rock soundtrack recalls an advertisement. And yet, the railway remains largely peripheral to a sweet, though superficial, coming-of-age story until its closing moments: a color coda that reads strongly as a commercial spot for a rail cruise to Paris.
But on the other hand, two adolescent men like Tomo and Marek would likely imagine an excursion to Paris as just the sort of saturated, romantic ad that Meadows and cinematographer Natasha Braier deliver. There are few conflicts between artist and patron here.
DVD Special Features:
- Biographies of director and actors
- Short Film: Odd Shoe by Paul Cotter
© Doug Johnson
Photos: Courtesy of Film Movement