Gabriel and Me Review

The Film
Given the recent collection of films about the North East I would doubt that anyone is planning to move there. I find it amusing that every single film about this area seems to wallow in a sea of despair. If you ever visit or live there then you would see that it is actually pretty much like every other area, good parts and bad parts.

Gabriel & Me does not try to buck this trend and as it is written by Lee “Billy Elliot” Hall that isn’t surprising. Jimmy Spud (Sean Landless) is a likeable lad of 11 who is a good boy at heart whilst all his classmates are little scrotes (ring any bells). His family are slightly less dysfunctional than usual with a loving mother (Rosie Rowell) who has to work in a chip shop and a pigeon-loving Grandfather (David Bradley) who seems the most intelligent of the lot. Jimmy’s father (Iain Glen) however has stereotype stamped on his forehead. He is an unemployed welder with a temper that always seems to be at boiling point. However one of the main reasons for this becomes apparent only too quickly.

In a wistful moment Billy… sorry, Jimmy applies to become an angel (The reason why is never truly explored). The ArcAngel Gabriel (Billy Connolly) turns up to vet Jimmy’s application in a series of amusing interviews at various unusual locations. Eventually Jimmy is given a placement as a trainee Angel and he sets about trying to save people in order to earn his full wings. This introduces him to a boy scout who always wears his scout uniform for some reason, but this is fairly irrelevant, as their relationship is never fully explored. The main thrust of the film concern’s Jimmy’s father who has cancer. He has a faint artistic streak but his bluff Geordie attitude won’t let him explore it fully. His relationship with Jimmy is strained throughout with Jimmy trying to “cure” his father with a miracle.

As you can see there is plenty here to fill 84-minutes and the plotting/script seems reasonable. The majority of it will put a wry smile on your face, as there are some amusing one-liners especially from Jimmy himself. The main problem with the plot is that we have seen most of the characters before in Billy Elliot or Purely Belter. The father has a different problem but he is still intolerant of “poofs”. Jimmy has a friend, a boy scout, whose heterosexuality occasionally seems to be in question. The Grandfather is Jimmy’s confidante and shows wisdom and intelligence in equal parts. The main difference is that this time the Mother is not missing, however she may as well be given the distinct lack of influence she seems to have.

The acting is a pretty mixed bag with Connolly and Bradley standing out a mile from the rest. Connolly is amusing and understated as the ArcAngel who tries to gently guide Jimmy. David Bradley as the Grandfather on the other hand is a beautifully played part with some excellent characterisation and this was the only part of the film that made me really sit up and take notice. Unfortunately the child actors don’t fair so well. Sean Landless is passable as Jimmy but his accent seems more Sunderland than Newcastle (sadly a common mistake). As for the Boy Scout… the less said about him the better I think. Rosie Rowell plays Jimmy’s mother adequately but has little to work with here and what there is seems contradictory. Finally Iain Glen makes a brave stab at the cancer-suffering Dad but whilst his characterisation is good his accent is bad, wavering all over the shop.

It’s not all bad however as the cinematography and direction are actually pretty good. The camera sweeps over the North East landscape making it look bleak or impressive depending on the location. The use of dark and light in the scenes in the crane, warehouse and pigeon loft are excellent making them far more interesting than the dialogue alone would convey.

Despite my critical comments above I think this film is a pretty average one. It is faintly amusing (mainly when Connolly is onscreen), has a decent twist and a suitably emotional ending (which is curiously given away in the first minute of the film). Unfortunately there are films that have done this before and better. Fans of Purely Belter and Billy Elliot may well find some entertainment here but don’t expect a smash hit. If you haven’t seen either of those I suggest you check those out first.

The Disc
Given the low budget nature of this film I wasn’t expecting a hugely impressive release and unfortunately there aren’t too many pleasant surprises in store. The menus are simple static ones and there are 15 chapters.

The film is presented anamorphically at 1.85:1, which is the correct ratio. The print is almost pristine with very little damage, which isn’t unusual for such a new film. The transfer is also very impressive with a very sharp picture and very little grain. Artefacting is negligible and the colours look suitably muted and grim. The black level and shadow detail are excellent and need to be given the excellent lighting used in some scenes. Overall this is a good solid picture.

The soundtrack is a fairly bog standard 5.1 track. The dialogue is clear and audible and there is no hiss on the track that I could detect. The channel separation is subtle as is the use of rears. The scene in the pigeon loft sounds very atmospheric on the surrounds and this all adds up to a very decent soundtrack.

The pleasant surprises end here I’m afraid with a very poor selection of extras. Firstly there is the theatrical trailer, which is, as ever, riveting.

The main extra is a 13-minute featurette shot during the making of the film. It is the usual promotional nonsense stitched together with quite a few clips from the film to pad it out. The interviews contain very little of interest and the only worthwhile part is a short clip of Sean Landless’ audition footage.

Well the film is no great shakes and I for one am a bit tired of “It’s grim oop North” films. The disc itself is accomplished with great picture and sound, however the extras may as well not be there. Overall this is a renter for anyone who doesn’t want to buy another Billy Elliot/Purely Belter clone to clog up their shelves.

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