Strayman (Christopher Eccleston) is a loner, sharing his flat with several stray dogs. Every so often he does spoken-word rants on karaoke night at the local pub. He writes the words on the walls of his flat. One day he rescues a young hitch-hiker (Jenna G) from the attentions of a lecherous truck driver, and soon her guitar is accompanying his words. Enter Knockoff (Stephen Walters), from the flat next door, who hears the music they make and offers to be their manager and take them all the way to the top…
Shot back to back with Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, also scripted by Jim Cartwright, Strumpet was a deliberately quick and cheap project shot on digital video, intended as an antidote to Danny Boyle’s previous film, the large-scale Hollywood production The Beach. The DP on both films was Anthony Dod Mantle, the Danish cinematographer who had worked on many Dogme films. Boyle and Dod Mantle would collaborate again on their next feature, the DV-shot 28 Days Later.
Strumpet is a winning combination of gritty, downbeat realism and fairytale romance. Once again, it’s less a director’s piece than a writer’s one, and a vehicle for a bravura lead performance. Christopher Eccleston is at his most intense – and that’s very intense – especially in an early scene where he spits out a John Cooper Clarke-esque poem to a pub audience in the opening scene. But he also shows the vulnerability and loneliness behind the dour façade. Although we are never told why, it’s clear that this is a damaged man. Equally damaged is the mysterious young woman who comes into his life. We never know her name: Strayman calls her Strumpet, on the principle that that’s the name he gives all the female dogs he keeps. (The male ones are all called Sergeant.) Jenna G is a Manchester-based musician and nowadays a radio presenter, and this was her only acting role to date. Although the character’s conception comes dangerously close to male fantasy – the hippyish chick who doesn’t bother with any clothes while playing the guitar, and indeed hardly speaks for much of the first half of the film – Ms G rescues it, just about. Again we don’t know why, but brief flashbacks to her childhood suggest someone just as much damaged as Strayman. The latter stages of the plot require some suspension of disbelief – for example, that Top of the Pops is broadcast live and those performing on it aren’t miming – but the film has won you over by then. And at 72 minutes, there’s no flab on this film at all.
As with their simultaneous release of Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, 2 Entertain have released Strumpet on a single-layer DVD, encoded for Region 2 only.
Given that this film was primarily intended for television (after festival showings, it premiered on BBC2), the DVD transfer is as you would expect, in a ratio of 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced. Visually, it’s hardly reference quality, with considerable grain and not much in the way of shadow detail, but that is how the film has always looked and is typical of its DV origins.
The soundtrack is Dolby Surround (ProLogic), again in keeping with the film’s TV origins. It’s not an elaborate mix, with the surrounds being used for music and ambience, with some occasional directional effects. There are thirteen chapter stops and no extras. A commentary might have been interesting.
Strumpet is an appealing minor work. Given the short length of this film and of Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, the lack of extras, and the fact that anyone interested in one film is likely to be interested in the other, 2 Entertain would have done well to put both films on one dual-layer disc. That would have represented better value than two bare-bones discs.