Somers Town Review
Tomo (Thomas Turgoose) has run away from the Midlands and ends up in London, soon losing all his money. Marek (Pior Jagiello) and his father Mariusz (Ireneusz Czop) are Polish immigrants. Mariusz has been brought over to work on the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras, leaving Marek alone all day. Then he and Tomo meet by chance and an unlikely friendship begins...
Somers Town began life as a short film, a commission by Eurostar, but it soon developed into a full-length, if short, feature. Following on from the more heavyweight Dead Man's Shoes and This Is England, it sees Shane Meadows taking on an intentionally smaller, gentler, more character-led piece, shot mostly in black and white. It's certainly slight, but its pleasures are there to be had. The acting from the small principal cast is spot-on.
Tomo and Marek are two teenage boys with nowhere to go. Meadows and his screenwriter Paul Fraser don't specify what kind of dysfunctional background Tomo is running away from, but it's a tribute to sixteen-year-old Thomas Turgoose that we buy it: you can see the loneliness and hurt in his eyes. Marek is a kindred spirit, left alone to be bored during the daytime. Marek hides Tomo in their flat and they earn money from slightly dodgy neighbour Graham (Perry Benson) and they are infatuated with French cafe waitress Maria (Elisa Lasowski). Meadows maintains a well-judged bittersweet tone: the pathos is there, but so is the humour. Natasha Braier's camerawork helps a lot in establishing the slightly melancholy mood, as do Gavin Clark's songs and score. At the end, as the two boys go on a journey (by Eurostar, naturally) the film bursts into colour. It's like moving into a different world.
Some will quibble at a running time barely over an hour, but I'm not going to be one of them. At a time when too many films are overlong, with an extending running time connoting importance when it's really just padding, it's good to see a film that is just as long as it needs to be. In its unassuming, low-key way, Somers Town is one of Meadows's best films.
Optimum's release of Somers Town is a dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only. It is also abailable on Blu-ray. The SD DVD begins with a trailer for Son of Rambow, a commercial for Snickers featuring Mr T, and trailers for Persepolis and Cassandra's Dream.
The DVD transfer of Somers Town is in the intended ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The monochrome photography is mostly slightly bluish greys without two many stark blacks and whites, but it's sharp and well-rendered, and pretty much what I saw in the cinema in 2008. The colour footage at the end, shot in 16mm, is intentionally grainy.
The soundtrack is a choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 and a 2.0 (analogue Dolby Surround) alternative. Either way, the film does not have the most elaborate sound mix, with the surrounds used for Gavin Clark's music score and occasional ambience. There are fixed subtitles for the Polish dialogue, and optional hard-of-hearing ones for the English dialogue, though this is for the feature only, not the extras.
There is no commentary, but Optimum have made up for it with a good few other extra features. The interviews are with Perry Benson (5:38), Piotr Jagiello and Thomas Turgoose together (6:20) and Shane Meadows (14:41). All take the form of a question appearing on screen with the answer following on video. This format carries over to the next item, “Shane Meadow's Masterclass at the Tribeca Film Festival” (68:46), which is longer than the feature. This is a Q&A featuring Meadows and his screenwriter (and lifelong friend) Paul Fraser, and quite a lot of information is imparted about Meadows's working methods and aims and how he began by making short films at weekends on a camcorder.
The extras are completed by two TV spots totalling 1:04 and the theatrical trailer (1:59).