British kitchen sink dramas were born out of a post-war generation searching for a way to express themselves as they emerged from a financially and emotionally devastating conflict. As part of the British new wave Woodfall Studios finally gave a voice to the working classes in an industry that was (and still is) dominated by the middle classes.
These humanist depictions of British life have produced some of the best films made on these isles, and the social realist work of filmmakers like Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson has continued more recently in the hands of directors like Shane Meadows, Ken Loach and Lynne Ramsay. Although it’s a little early to place actor-writer-director Mark Gillis alongside such luminaries, judging by his grounded debut feature, Sink, he displays enough potential to suggest he may get there one day.
Gillis’ film is as rough around the edges as its main character, Mickey Mason (Marty Herdman). He’s the type of man any number of people will recognise in their own families, either through personal experience or seeing their father, uncle or brother's face staring back at them. Mickey’s story is set back in 2008 around the time the world’s bankers got off scot-free for one of the biggest and most blatant financial heists ever seen. The repercussions of which much of the world is still dealing with today.
After being made redundant and losing a 30 year career at the drop of a hat, Mickey is stuck on a zero hours contract doing menial work. But he’s a worker, and money is money no matter how low the wage, so he sucks it up while searching for longer term employment. Paying off the bills is an ongoing struggle, without having the extra worry of his son Jason (Josh Herdman) falling back into drugs and his dementia-suffering father Sam (Ian Hogg) wandering out into passing traffic. So when his old friend Paul (Mark Gillis) offers a solution that will test Mickey’s moral compass, he’s left with the dilemma of having to sink or swim.
Some indie films benefit from showing the seams of their production and Sink falls firmly into that category. Gillis was working to a tiny budget and that shows itself throughout, but heartfelt performances by the cast - in particular Marty Herdman - warm you to the lives of the characters and their world. Herdman has a relaxed and natural presence in front of the camera that offers a familiarity essential to placing you in his worn down and tired shoes. His face tells a story all of its own, his world weary look showing a man who has had enough of being taken for granted.
We see shots of the city looming large in the distance from the balcony of Mickey’s council estate, the control it has on locals felt by almost everyone he knows. Three generations of the Mason family experience it in their own way: 'financial restructuring' of Sam’s care home forces him to live with Mickey, Jason believes drug dealing is the only career opportunity open to him, and Mickey is cornered into an impossible situation despite his attempts to work with the system to find employment.
Much like I, Daniel Blake, Gillis’ film is also told with a compassion and humour grounded in real empathy with its characters. It’s representative of a generation and section of society that has been left to live on scraps while being told austerity is a necessary evil. Sink feels appropriately raw and thanks to its honest storytelling survives a number of issues that would kill a lot of other films. It wears its heart on its sleeve and serves as a platform for a cast of mostly unseen British talent, led by a director who will hopefully be given more opportunities to develop his craft.