The director of I.D., Philip Davis, had previous experience in onscreen football hooligans. He’d been one of the ‘top boys’ in Alan Clarke’s 1989 film for the BBC’s Screen Two strand, The Firm. That production remains the classic on the subject and, to date, the only one to have undergone the remake treatment. Recent years have seen a glut of hooligan-based movies - The Football Factory, Green Street (and its direct-to-video sequel), Cass, Rise of the Footsoldier, Awaydays - but at the time of I.D.’s production there was pretty much it and The Firm. You had to look overseas, to the likes of Ultrà from Italy, for alternatives.
As with The Firm, I.D. attempts to get inside the mindset of the hooligan. The Clarke film did so through Gary Oldman’s character, an estate agent with a wife and child who didn’t fit the usual thuggish stereotype. I.D. opts for a different tact and instead focuses on a group of undercover policemen who attempt to infiltrate one particularly notorious gang. One of their number, played by Reece Dinsdale, gets much further involved than the rest, threatening to ruin his job and his home life in the process.
There isn’t any actual football in I.D.; the nearest we get is a quick shot of a ref blowing a whistle. Davis and screenwriter Vincent O’Connell instead approach the culture behind the hooliganism which, ultimately, doesn’t really have anything to do with sport at all. The most common location throughout the film isn’t a football ground (though Bradford City’s Valley Parade does occasionally stand in for the Kennel, fictional home to the fictional Shadwell Town), but a boozer. It is here, within the walls of the Rock, where Dinsdale and his fellow officers ingratiate themselves to the local firm (the Dogs) and where Dinsdale’s downfall slowly takes effect. The thuggery is arguably just an offshoot - the real damage is in mixing with the clientele and the heavy drinking that comes with it.
At the time of I.D.’s release Dinsdale was best known for playing John Thaw’s son in the cosy ITV sitcom Home to Roost. Few would have expected such serious work from the actor and that’s partially the point. Just as the cocky copper and loving husband of the opening scenes gives way to someone much darker and far more aggressive, so too Dinsdale’s easy-going sitcom persona is firmly scrubbed away. It’s a very impressive performance in a film that’s full of quality actors: Richard Graham is the standout as Dinsdale’s sergeant; future EastEnder Perry Fenwick and a pre-Gene Hunt Philip Glenister make up the other two members of the undercover gang; Claire Skinner and Saskia Reeves get the two main female roles; and it’s a strange sight seeing Warren Clarke all tattoo-ed up as the Rock’s scary landlord. Sean Pertwee and Press Gang’s Lee Ross are also on the cast list as is Davis himself thanks to a tiny, slightly tongue-in-cheek, cameo.
Such quality, and perhaps also the subject matter, led to I.D. earning itself a theatrical release. It had been intended to be shown, much like The Firm, as part of the Screen Two strand. Davis’ previous experience as a director at this point had been solely in made-for-television efforts. He’d done the fifteen-minute Life’s a Gas for Channel Four’s Short and Curlies and the feature-length Skulduggery, which he also wrote, for Screen One. Screenwriter O’Connell was in much the same boat having been responsible for Life’s a Gas and the superb Screen Two film Criminal. Nevertheless, the TV origins are rarely revealed. I.D. is pacey, pulls no punches and comes powered by a fine score from Will Gregory (later of Goldfrapp fame). Indeed, if there are any give-aways then it’s simply the result of Davis calling on his experience in various Play for Todays or working alongside the likes of Mike Leigh and Alan Clarke, but of course that can only be a good thing.
There are flaws, admittedly. Some of the characterisations can become a little broad at times and there is arguably a certain predictability to Dinsdale’s downfall. Yet Davis and O’Connell generally offset these with some nice little details - the tension of a miserable Christmas morning broken when a toy falls into Dinsdale’s pint or him pointing out a six-week old Shadwell Town tattoo on his arse to Skinner to prove how long it’s been since they last had sex. There’s also a pleasing ambiguity to the final scenes. Furthermore, I.D. is also leagues ahead of any of the hooligan films from the past ten years. The Firm remains ‘top boy’, but I.D. is still pretty nifty.
I.D. gets re-released onto DVD and makes its Blu-ray debut on May the 14th courtesy of Anchor Bay. The old Universal disc, which first emerged in the late nineties and has been repackaged a couple of times since, was a sloppy affair framed in 4:3 and lacking any significant extras. Unfortunately this new release doesn’t do much better. Once again there are no special features and whilst the film is now correctly framed in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the disc also make use of a cinema print rather than the original materials. Admittedly that print is in pretty good shape with very little damage, but it also lacks definition and provides hardly any detail whatsoever during the darker scenes. There is some grain visible during the interior shots, but much of it would appear to have been scrubbed from the image. Ultimately, the Blu-ray marks a step-up from the ancient Universal DVD but that’s not saying a great deal. High definition presentations should be making use of new scans from either the original negative or the intermediate, not what we’re seeing here. Of course in some circumstances this kind of situation is inescapable (the recent BFI Flipside release of Voice Over, for example, had to make use of a cinema print as the originals no longer exists), but I can’t see how a 1995 production - and a well-known one at that - is lacking such materials. At least the soundtrack fares well, with both the original two-channel and a new DTS-HD 5.1 mix available.