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A Minor Gem
on 8 May 2012
Shane Meadow's 2008 film Somers Town is a slight, but increasingly infectious little gem of a film. I recall that when I originally saw the film at the cinema I was not overly impressed, thinking that it did not compare in stature with the likes of his earlier classics such as A Room For Romeo Brass, Dead Man's Shoes and This Is England. However, on repeat viewings of the film on DVD, its appeal has steadily increased for me and I would now put it in the same category (quality and scale-wise) with such other minor (recent) gems as Pawel Pawlikowki's Last Resort, Eran Creevey's Shifty and Tom Harper's The Scouting Book For Boys.
Somers Town showcases the acting talents of Shane Meadows' regular Thomas Turgoose playing the (nearly) street-wise, 16-year old Tomo, who has made his way down from 'the North' (Nottingham, in fact), escaping from his broken family and trying to make his way in the Smoke (i.e. London) - in particular, in the Somers Town area near Kings Cross. Whilst Turgoose was undoubtedly impressive in This Is England, here he has an even more substantial role, being on screen virtually for the entire 68 minutes of this short film, and he more than lives up to what is required of the role, putting in an outstanding performance in his impressive portrayal of a mix of up front bravado (including some hilarious sequences) and underlying vulnerability. Director Meadows, together with his regular script-writer Paul Fraser, have constructed a beautifully poignant (and, by turns, funny and tragic) tale as Tomo meets up with lonely Polish immigrant Marek (an impressive film debut performance by Piotr Jagiello) and the two embark on a series of small-scale adventures. Acting-wise, Meadows completes his casting by including another of his regular collaborators, the marvellous Perry Benson, who delivers another hilarious turn as small-scale market trader, wit and wide boy Graham, Ireneusz Czop, who is impressive playing Makek's father Mariusz, and Elisa Lasowski as Maria, the girl with whom both Tomo and Marek become infatuated.
In Somers Town, Meadows' simple, realist approach to film-making is perfectly complemented by his chosen soundtrack, which comprises a beautifully atmospheric set of compositions written by Gavin Clark, with whom Meadows worked on his earlier films Twenty Four Seven and Small Time. The film is also impressively shot in black and white by cinematographer Natasha Braier, who has managed to strike a skilful balance between the run-down look of the London housing estates and the settings for some of the lighter, more romantic passages of the film. All these elements have been skilfully brought together by Meadows with the effect of transforming Somers Town from being a very insubstantial affair into something magical, and certainly worth its place in the oeuvre of one of the finest film directors working in the UK currently.
The DVD also includes a number of interesting extras including interviews with Messrs. Meadows, Turgoose, Jagiello and Benson on the making of Somers Town, and (most impressively) an insightful and educational Master Class at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, in which Meadows and Fraser describe in some detail their approach to film-making.