'Somers Town' movie: Unlikely friendship in London suburb in transition
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 it's 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 Is 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.
'Minor' but worthwhile
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 U.S. this December 2009.)
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 the film, these youths and the world that surrounds them are on a journey that may extend beyond preconceived limits.
Eurostar funding & plot-friendly marketing placement
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's reasonable to scrutinize the film as clever marketing propaganda. Certainly, the black-and-white cinematography and jangle-rock soundtrack recall 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.
Film Movement's Somers Town DVD also includes Paul Cotter's short film Odd Shoe, about a boy whose life is changed after he finds himself a new pair of shoes.
© Doug Johnson.
 Note from the Editor: Somers Town was in the running for Best British Independent Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Thomas Turgoose), and Best Screenplay (David Fraser).
Somers Town (2008)
Dir.: Shane Meadows.
Scr.: Paul Fraser.
Cast: Thomas Turgoose. Piotr Jagiello. Elisa Lasowski. Kate Dickie. Ireneusz Czop. Perry Benson.
Somers Town cast info via the IMDb.
Piotr Jagiello and Thomas Turgoose Somers Town image: Film Movement.
“Somers Town Movie: 'Minor' But Worthwhile Effort Stars Tribeca & London Film Critics Winner” last updated in August 2018.