Somer of Shane
Published July 16, 2009
Thomas Turgoose as Tomo. Photo courtesy of Film Movement.
UK director Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes, This Is England) has broken new ground with Somers Town, his short and sweet new film (written by frequent collaborator Paul Fraser) about two young pals in a London neighborhood. For the first time, he filmed outside his native Midlands. And he shot it in black and white. There’s another twist: it was a commission from Eurostar. Thankfully, it doesn’t look or act like one.
Somers Town is set in a central London neighborhood between Kings Cross and St. Pancras; looming over it is the construction site for the high-speed Eurostar train station. Marek (Piotr Jagiello) lives in Somers Town with his father, a Polish immigrant who works at the site. Tomo (Thomas Turgoose), a runaway, ends up there because he doesn’t know where else to go when he gets off the train from Nottingham. It’s a highly transitional part of town, which is why Meadows went with black and white: even over the course of the quick ten-day shoot, the backdrops changed shape and color so often that it threatened to make the film’s visuals incoherent.
Shane Meadows. Photo courtesy of Film Movement.
Despite the big-city setting, the film has the small-town feel of the Midlands films that put Meadows on the map. As in those works, daily routines and a tiny circle of friends move the drama along, rather than hinder it, and rebellious flashes of imagination (think of the “hunting” rampage through derelict buildings in This Is England, or the more perverse sport local hooligans cook up in Dead Man’s Shoes) transform depressing surroundings into a soundstage of sorts for hormonal release. “It’s actually something I think American films have captured much more successfully than we have here, that sense of relationships existing against a larger urban background,” Meadows says, adding that he never really thought of Somers Town as an urban movie. “I think my instinct is to look for relationships and examine how they work. At first it just seems another amorphous inner-city neighborhood, but you quickly realize it’s just like every other community. You see the same people going to the same shop at the same time every morning.” Case in point: the café where Marek and Tomo playfully court a beautiful French waitress (Elisa Lasowski).
Somers Town is also a step forward for 17-year-old Turgoose, who put plans for a career in carpentry on hold (echoes of Harrison Ford!) after his much-lauded debut in This Is England. “He’s more confident now, but still willing to put everything into his performance. He is still an instinctive actor,” Meadows says. “He and I also discovered this wonderful talent for comedy that he has, which was news for both of us.”
Meadows recently finished Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee, a mockumentary filmed partially at an Arctic Monkeys concert. He’s currently developing a series based on This is England with Channel Four, and moving ahead on a horror film. He’s not (thank god) the next Guy Ritchie. Still, like the unworldly pair of friends in Somers Town, who bond in a nondescript part of London and end up, at film’s end, on a romp in Paris, Meadows is migrating out beyond his native ground. As he puts it, simply: “Being in London gives you a stronger sense of the link to the rest of the world.”
Somers Town plays July 15-28 at Film Forum, located at 209 W Houston St, New York.