Urban and the Shed Crew – a Review

Attempt number 5 at getting a review of UATSC down. Yes. It has taken me five days and four scrapped attempts to finally post my review of UATSC. To jump ahead, I think the film is good. But I almost felt a little bit too entertained and not quite affected enough by it, due to the aesthetic and plot choices in it. And I acknowledge that that is due to having read the book – which has resulted in my own interpretations and own mental visualisation of the story. As it is, the film is film-maker Candida Brady’s own, individual interpretation of the story. And it is therefore separate from the book and equally valid. My difficulty at coming to a conclusion about the film’s merits is hampered by my expectations, based on the source material – which potentially makes my review unfair.

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The cover of the 2005 memoir, available here

You see, I walked into the film with high expectations, wanting to love this film, seeing my favourite actor excel (once again) and lead in a movie that could not only cement his status as a serious and excellent leading man, but also raise awareness for a topic that can never be mentioned enough. A story worth telling, giving a voice to those who are mostly unheard, highlighting the failure of our social systems, but real and therefore a piece of contemporary history. A true story, no less, recorded for posterity in Bernard Hare’s 2005 memoir Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew and chronicling the unusual friendship of the eponymous Urban and his unlikely saviour, “Chop”, aka Hare himself, as well as providing a haunting social commentary on life on the margins of society in 1990s Leeds. It is all there – the larger-than-life characters, the gritty setting on a council estate in East Leeds, the ever-unsolved and universal problems of drug abuse and child neglect, and the satisfying yet not entirely unrealistic resolution. Perfect, ready-made material for a film maker with a conscience. And last but not least a film with the well-known name of Richard Armitage attached, an actor renowned for nuanced and convincing acting.

But a book adaptation is always a heavy burden for any film maker. How to marry the desire to make a commercially successful entertainment product, with the need to tell a gripping, true story that is respectful to the protagonists (and yet might be scrutinised by some members of the audience who know the source material)? *And* to do so in an artistic yet entertaining fashion that keeps the audience interested, makes the film stand out, yet stays faithful to the story? I think film-maker Candida Brady had a lot on her plate there, and kudos to her for taking on this project!

The film opens with the eponymous Urban running away from a children’s home. His journey home takes him, barefoot and in pyjamas, through (parts of) Leeds. It’s a nice way to set up the background of the story, the place where it is set, and it introduces us to some of the characters from the “shed crew”, his group of friends, until Urban finally takes us to his home, where his drug-addicted mother Greta fails to run the coop. Urban’s saviour Chop is introduced through his first encounter with Greta, with whom he becomes romantically involved. These three characters are the “fixed stars” of the film – the three characters whose lives intersect and propel the story forwards, through various crises and a good few scenes of humour.

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Fraser Kelly as Urban, Richard Armitage as Chop – Source: Urban and the Shed Crew on Twitter

They are depicted in full “glory” – Urban is ably portrayed by young Fraser Kelly who convincingly captures the dichotomy of the streetwise, smart kid and the little boy in search for stability and guidance. You want to hug his Urban and give him love (and a warm, home-cooked meal) and rescue him from the circumstances. His mother Greta is beyond all help, it seems. She is caught up in her addiction, and unable to look after her children, only focussed on herself. Anna Friel gives a stellar performance in this difficult role. She has to play a character who somehow is incapable of taking the opportunities for redemption that are offered to her, and Friel is absolutely stunning, from acting the madness and the irrationality of Greta so convincingly, to screaming in a thick Yorkshire accent.

Her performance almost eclipses Richard Armitage’s, whose role does not give him opportunity for that kind of scope. Although his Chop is by far the perfect hero, Armitage does not get to portray the awful extremes of human existence or mental instability. But that is down to the fact that his Chop is arguably the most “normal” and copped-on character, the identification figure in this piece – the redeemer and saviour who brings stability and care into the chaos, despite his own failings. Armitage imbues Chop with the warmth and compassion that is implied in the book, and his strongest scenes are the ones with his young co-stars where he fosters the youngsters while remaining their confidante, as well as Chop’s break-down in a scene with a social-worker friend that ultimately convinces Chop to take charge of Urban. Chop is the most relatable of the lot, and Armitage’s performance has to rely on nuance and heart, which it does beautifully. I completely bought the scruffy social worker type, not least because he inhaled so convincingly… But seriously, this is a sort of character he has not done before. Chop is not one of the obvious alpha males that Armitage has portrayed so far. Porter, Thornton, Thorin, Lucas North, Guy – all largely confident men, convinced of their own merits and skills, and possessing balls of steel. Chop is a different type, quietly strong and intelligent, yet veering on self-destruction. For this, Armitage had to pare back the bravado and action, and instead negotiate the fine but decisive line between quiet confidence and weakness. Done well and convincingly, so much so, that I would love to see Armitage in less action-focussed roles in the future. [objectification mode on] Oh, and he is not shabby to look at, either, despite the bulky grunge look of the 90s.[objectification mode off]

The film is a snapshot of the characters’ lives at a particular point in time, without much background, and it fully succeeds in giving us a glimpse into their existence: neglected children who turn to drugs and crime in an effort to negotiate their daily lives. Without any positive role models to look up to, they repeat their parents’ mistakes. Until Chop gains their confidence and trust, and attempts to give them (subtle) guidance and structure. He is most successful with his young protégé Urban with whom he is closest, and their relationship is supposedly the focus of the film, culminating with a happy ending that implies a (better) future for both Urban and Chop.

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Chop and the Shed Crew – Source: Urban and the Shed Crew on Twitter

Even though the drug-taking scenes are haunting and intense, it is the scenes when Urban and his shed crew friends are shown as the children they really are, which are most heart-breaking. He becomes the children’s “guardian”, entertaining them with stories (such as the Arthurian legend) and opening their minds to education and art. When he talks, they listen, they become children, and it is heart-breaking to see how eagerly the youngsters are looking for an adult to listen, guide and look after them. It encapsulates the message of the film to me – the answer to child neglect and drug abuse are not nanny-state schemes and institutionalisation, but making sure that children have responsible adults to look after them and give them guidance – and love – in an individualistic manner, not prescribed by paragraphs and laws.

Mind you, I am not sure the message is all that clear in this film. I felt that the focus was shifting occasionally and I was confused whether this was the story of a man’s unlikely friendship with a young boy, a tragic romance between the protagonist and Greta, or a story of redemption for the main character Chop. Particularly the shed crew, i.e. the wider group of children and teenagers, seemed to get too little screen time for a group that is even mentioned in the title of the film. In short: the focus was not quite clear for me.

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Unhappy love-triangle? – Source: Urban and the Shed Crew on Twitter

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Urban and Chop go bonding and camping – Source: Urban and the Shed Crew on Twitter

Stories such as Urban’s are perfect for arthouse distribution – especially when they are based on true events. As such I would have preferred the film to be more edgy in its cinematographic realization. The film makes a few interesting attempts at less conventional cinematic representation, but inconsistently so: For instance, it uses a voice-over by Urban himself during the introductory scenes which give background and insight into the mind of the boy – and then never picks up this story-telling device again. Similarly, in a beautiful scene that takes Chop and Urban on a bonding trip to Scotland, the film uses some stop-start motions which are interesting to look at and add a bit of visual spice to the cinematography – only to never return to this artistic device again. More consistency here could have given UATSC a unique and gritty look that would befit an edgy urban (Urban!) drama, as would have more variety in camera angles or emphasis in lighting tones.

It doesn’t have to be the funky changes of perspective from the inside of a toilet bowl á la Trainspotting all over again. But the 1996 Danny Boyle-directed heroin drama on the basis of Irvine Welch’s novel, has really set the bar for a commercially successful, cinematographically interesting, non-mainstream film, not least due to its hard-hitting, intense soundtrack. While the music for UATSC was by no means bad, a soundtrack that would’ve reflected the electronica-driven 1990s reminiscent of “raves” and “E” a bit more (local punk/folk/electronic outfit Chumbawamba comes to mind here), could have added to the atmosphere. Occasionally, UATSC’s music felt a little bit too happy for my taste – unless the contrast between uplifting music and the less-than-happy circumstances depicted in the film was deliberate. Oh, and just to completely out myself as a pedantic nit-picker – I really disliked the “funky” fonts used for the credits at the beginning of the film that were more reminiscent of an adventure drama for kids than a film that could be a contender for a serious drama as social critique. Less is more!

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Screenshot from UATSC trailer

There is no doubt, however, that this is a story worth telling and the film is a great attempt at raising awareness for the ongoing problems it addresses. It stays faithful to the real life story, a few changes in sequence notwithstanding, and it takes great care to depict the real, living protagonists fairly, respectfully and with sympathy. This is not a finger-pointing film – it makes no judgment on the victims, but tells their story. Appropriate and commendable. The characters are discernibly the real people Hare described in his book, and despite leaving out some of the central problems of the real shed crews’ existence (early sexualisation and prostitution), the hardship of their lives in underprivileged circumstances and under threat of drug abuse is unflinchingly presented. While I would have preferred a grittier realization of the story, the more conventional approach of the film-maker might make the film more susceptible (and digestible) to a mainstream audience. Ultimately, that is the goal – by packaging the challenging story and its difficult themes in a smooth, digestible format, more people may be reached and distribution could be widened. It is to be hoped that a distributor will be found – or that the film will be picked up by a TV channel where it ultimately might sit better than in an art house scenario.

 

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75 thoughts on “Urban and the Shed Crew – a Review

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve been waiting impatiently, and I wonder whether your measured reaction and review was why it was difficult for you to write. I can always depend on you for an unbiased look at Richard Armitage and his work P.S. I, too, disliked the opening credits when I saw the trailer. This almost ridiculous thing happened, when I watched the trailer, and it said, in that font, “thieves, scuffers, ( and then, I read, “ashed,” so I spent a lot of time trying to find an urban definition for ashed. – head slap, until finally the search “ashed” came up with a photo of a garden shed).

    Anyway, thanks for this. I am still burning to see this. I am and have been especially interested in knowing ( and hopefull seeing for myself) Richard Arimitage playing lighter moments than usually appear in most of his character roles.

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    • Yes, you have hit the nail on the head. My review is slightly distanced (although that is what a review should be), trying to balance out the carte-blanche credit that anything RA does inevitably receives from me. I really felt hampered by my expectations. I enjoyed reading the book (not sure if that is the right term – it was well-written, intense, evocative and told an important story; I did not particularly love Chop in it and had my reservations about him, but I really loved that he wrote the story), and hence I had huge expectations of the film. I have tried not to compare the film with the book because that is always an uneven comparison. But even though the film is good, but it struck me as less evocative as the book. It didn’t hit as hard as the book. It probably did that intentionally – Brady said at the Q&A that she wanted the emphasis to be on the hope and the good outcome.
      The font design was something I already disliked in the trailers. From a design POV these kind of “novelty characters” are just a bit gimmicky. I also find the use of them not up-to-date, apart from what you describe – they can obscure the meaning.
      I am glad you still are burning to see the film. It *is* worth seeing, and it *is* a faithful representation of the characters and some of what they go through. I feel that it would be best if one could see the film first and then read the book for fleshing out of the details. Too late for us, though…

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  2. Gut so! Keiner hat eine Jubelarie verlangt. Ich kann es ja nicht nachprüfen, aber du vermittelst deinen Eindruck gut nachvollziehbar. Wie schön, dass dein Werk nach heftigen Geburtswehen dann doch noch das Licht der Welt erblickt hat. Fürwahr, ein properes Kind 😀

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  3. Thanks for the review! I wouldn’t say “finally” as I know it takes time to get to grips with one’s thoughts after such an intense week – for better, for worse. Not to forget the picturesque chronicles you already delievered.
    The whole scenario of the movie has made me think of a TV screening rather than a cinematic release for some time already! I really hope they’ll go for it!
    The topic still matters as we have learned, and not only in Leeds!

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    • I would think that this sits better on TV , too, not least because it is such a regionally placed story (despite its universal themes). But I am hoping for the benefit of fans all over the world that it will be made available in some shape or form. Of course a cinema release would be fantastic – both for spreading the awareness, as well as for RA.

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  4. Thank you so much for this thoughtful, insightful and balanced review. I have been eagerly awaiting it, so much so I postponed my shampoo in order to read it. 😉 (I have Bark in the Park to cover this afternoon and right now, I look like the lead singer of “Flock of Seagulls” from back in the day)

    I also very much understand the need to digest an experience properly before you share your thoughts on it. Been there, done that.
    It only makes me wish all the more to see the film and savor some excellent performances. I was also hoping for more grit and edginess a la the source material, but you are right–translating any book, but especially one with subject matter like Urban– into a film is always a balancing act and not an easy task for the film maker. I appreciate Ms. Brady for tackling this challenge.

    I do hope this is a film a lot more people (including myself) will get to see and that it will raise awareness that now, as then, we have too many throw-away people in our society, kids falling through the cracks in a system that is ineffective. I think a television presentation (and subsequent DVD release) has a lot of promise.

    Personally, I would very much like to see RA do more character-driven (rather than action and CGI-driven) roles in the future. And as versatile as he is, there’s no reason he can’t mingle big budget films aimed at a broader audience with smaller, more intimate projects that help “feed one’s soul.” His nuanced acting works so well in such a setting.

    And now I REALLY do have to get into that shower. Encore, merci beaucoup! 😀

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    • Also re the font used for the opening credits: I know they were likely going for something “street” but it ended up looking more like something I’d choose for the kindergarten graduation music video I edit every year. Definitely would have preferred something less cutesy for a film.

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    • LOL – flock of seagulls hairdo. I remember those. Well, Angie, the 80s are back in fashion…
      But to your comment – yes, I was very aware while watching the film, that Brady was walking a tightrope. She had to make a film based on real lives, therefore she had to keep their reaction in mind. And she had to work with the restrictions that are (rightfully) placed on working with young actors. She has done well, never mind that I might have preferred something a bit more gritty. As I said, I also wish for the film to be shown to a broader audience, not just in art house cinemas in the British Isles, but world-wide, because the themes are universal.
      As for RA and more character-driven work: YES! Please. He certainly has the ability for it, and I would love it if he could balance the more commercial work with critically acclaimed theatre or indie projects. I suspect that now that he has had a taste of the theatre success, he might want that again. It feeds the soul in a different way than commercial success does.

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  5. Wonderful review. I want to see it (him in it) and hope someday I have the opportunity. I did not read the book, and perhaps most potential distributors didn’t either. It sounds as though that might be a plus in selling the director’s vision, which is a bit sunnier than the author’s. Putting yourself in the distributor’ s place, can you see it finding an audience and making money? Since their bottom line is what sells, in whichever market they are targeting, does the film have a realistic chance if being picked up by a distributor? I know you are not an expert, but as a consumer (not an RA fan) can you see it finding an audience somewhere?

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    • That is a difficult question to answer. Or maybe it is a question that I am reluctant to give my own answer to? Ok, in the interest of being honest – no, I do not think that this film is likely to be picked up by a distributor for world-wide release. There would be an audience for it, but I think the audience is too small to make a lot of money. It is a gritty story, but not told in a gritty way, and I suspect it needs some distinguishing characteristics that make it really stand out in order to attract a distributor. Call it a shock factor – something to attract the crowd. It’s not necessarily something that I would want myself, but in terms of making distribution viable, I think it needs more than the solid work and fantastic performances it has.
      But hey, I am hoping that I will be proven wrong in this.

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      • I knew you would be honest. The good news is most indie films are released by regional distributors, and the film has appeal to a UK audience and might get picked up that way.The mother lode of worldwide distribution is an incredible long shot. (I have been studying this, to figure out my chances of ever seeing it.) My exhaustive research suggests if the film gets released in any medium, VOD, cable, whatever, it will beat incredible odds. Only a small percentage of indie films ever make it to any marketplace, at least in the US. I am hoping some distributors see a profit to be made and go for it. At this point, it’s all about the money. Fingers crossed.

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        • Tbh, I do not know how the whole distribution system works, or how a film makes it (not) into a general release but I suspected it is not that easy to find a distributor for any kind of film. I hope that the film gets more exposure and is noticed by distributors somehow. The makers presumably have contacts within the industry which will help them along.

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  6. I hope I get to see it someday, but your review more or less puts on paper many of the things that the advance publicity and the trailer had led me to dread. It’s always unfortunate when an opportunity is lost, but maybe it will make it onto TV and we’ll be able to see it that way.

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    • Hehe, that sounds as if it was a damning review – which I didn’t really mean. I enjoyed watching this film. It all depends on the audience this is aimed at. For a wide audience, this was good – it was safe to watch for all ages. But it could have gone further if it had wanted to attract a more hardcore crowd and/or critics, I think. As I said, I find the comparison with the source material slightly unfair, but the book certainly went further – and rightfully became a critical success. To me, this looked more like an extremely well-made piece for television.

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  7. Pingback: And here’s Guylty’s review of Urban and the Shed Crew | Me + Richard Armitage

  8. Thanks so much for sharing your views on UATSC. As others have said it is insightful and balanced. I do hope we get a chance to see it one day.

    I bought the book when I heard Richard would be doing the movie. I haven’t read it yet. I think I was in a bit of a dark place and some of the comments I read about the book seemed to indicate it was a difficult read. I have every intention of reading it one day but now based on your comments I think I’ll wait and see if I can view the movie first.

    I too am interested in the answer to Kathy’s question. In your opinion is it possible for the movie to find an audience and be profitable? Thanks again for bringing us along with your pictures and words!

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    • As I said in a comment somewhere above – if you could see the film first and then read the book, that would be ideal. The film is a great introduction to the topic – the book is indeed quite in-your-face about the issues it addresses, it really does not hold back. It is very well written, and I was absolutely hooked by the book and could hardly put it down, despite its challenging story.
      Strictly speaking, I do think the film has an audience, and that audience is not even exclusively made up of Richard Armitage fans. LOL But I suspect it still is too small for a major release. If anything, it would be an art house film, but I believe it would sit best as a made for television film.

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  9. Thanks for this Guylty! It’s really interesting for me to see how the book compares to the film and yes, it is extremely difficult to have a film do complete justice to a book. For example, for me, for all the Jane Eyre adaptations out there, I have yet to come across the perfect one. There are some very good ones out there that I love and have seen again and again but none is perfect. Even To Kill a Mockingbird, a film I love, can not quite live up to the book, which I love even more… And so I think it will always be hard to for a film to live up to the expectation of the book. I love your honesty in dealing with this and I am so curious to find out how I will feel once I see it (I’m still counting on one day seeing it).
    I absolutely love the idea of seeing Richard in a different kind of role and am already hoping he will tackle more of the close-to-destruction-not-so-alpha-male type of role. But reading this I am also a bit hesitant about the feel-good happiness mode the film seems to have. Not that I would want it to be a totally despairing film and I do like the message of hope it seems to send. To me, the book has that too but it is also counterbalanced by not everything being perfect for everyone in the end and I wonder how I will feel about that aspect when I see the film.
    Lots of food for thought which makes me very eager still to see this!

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    • I found it extremely hard to judge the film on its own, without constantly comparing it to the book. The film does do justice to the book, and to the protagonists. But it also is its own entity, with a different general feel to it. I wouldn’t go as far and call it feel good happiness, but it seemed to end on a higher note than the book. For me, it could have been pushed a bit further, but that is just me. As I said, that is Brady’s interpretation, and it’s valid. Her intent was to end on a high, to give the film a positive outlook. And possibly to make it more digestible. The book is certainly harder to digest.
      Ultimately, film makers who take on a literary adaptation, are brave, and I do not want to slate Brady for attempting this. It’s a respectful adaptation. I think it is worth seeing, and I hope it will make it either into distribution or will be made available through TV/DVD so that more people who are interested in the topic get to see it.

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  10. Thank you for this. I’ve read it with much interest, and I sincerely appreciate that you’ve taken the time and effort to prepare what I believe to be a fair and nuanced review of the UATSC film.
    Hmm, I understand your trepidation in terms of giving an objective description of the adaptation. This is a film we all want to watch and to see succeed. However, you point to some aspects which would indicate why it perhaps will not be available to a wide (non-British) audience. Sadly.
    I disagree when I read that this film has no relevance outside the UK, because it is regional in its outlook. The true issue here is children growing up in abysmal circumstances, and it is something we see every where. The sad “inheritance” of society’s socio-economic structures. TV would perhaps be a more feasible medium, and I’m also thinking it could be used for educational purposes.

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    • Thanks, Mermaid. I hope it is clear that I am not slating this film. I find it commendable that someone takes on this topic, and especially so with a true story whose protagonists are still alive and deserve to be treated and shown with respect.
      Are you referring to my comment above where I said the story was regionally placed? You are right, of course, the theme is universal, the issues the film addresses are evident all over the world, and therefore the film is relevant outside its region, too. I completely agree with that. (I said so in the post,too.) It’s hard to say what distributors think about that – it’s just my hunch that the regional placement *could* hamper its wider release… And I obviously hope that it won’t be so.

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      • It is clear that your purpose isn’t to slate the film. I really like your review because it is well written and manages to stay unbiased. We would all *love* to see RA, but that’s not really the point here, and this shines through your writing.
        No, I think more in terms of the film maybe painting too rosy a finale. I haven’t seen the film, so I shouldn’t comment, but by making the movie end on this positive note (Canidida Brady says so herself), I fear it may have closed the door on some distributors. I know films produced in my domestic market usually have a serious theme with not necessarily happy endings, but something more edgy, more poignant. Take as an example ‘The Hunt’ by Thomas Vinterberg, which is an excellent film that made it to Cannes.
        Let’s see what happens next. It all depends on which audience it is aimed at.

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  11. I know these rough areas of Leeds well and I have worked with children like Urban. When I first read the book, I was so MAD with Bernard but forgave him at the end because of his honesty. And yet, I found the film more depressing because you actually get to see the reality of the lives of these children in all its ghastly detail. I think that one’s imagination when you just read the book often softens the edges. The film was miserable and wretched for most of its length although, as with the book, there was the odd bit of humour. It was only upbeat in the final few minutes when Urban finally goes to school. Urban saves Chop by giving him a purpose as much as Chop saves Urban. The film makes you realise just how needy they both are.

    It is only a ‘small’ film because it is only a ‘small’ book. Brady has done a fine job with it, IMO, and I don’t see that it could have been done any better. People around the world may be able to relate to it but it is still ‘only’ a personal account of a Leeds bloke who was a failure – someone sliding down the slippery slope of life, even though he had had certain educational advantages that others of his generation had not had – but who also had enough intelligence and kindness to reach out to a bunch of deprived Leeds kids and, at long last, achieved a small amount of success. It was depressing that he didn’t achieve more.

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    • Thank you for your comment Jaydee. I find it really interesting how different we have perceived the film. Yes, the film shows the ghastly reality, and yet I found the book more affecting in its direct honesty. The film looked more up-beat to me than the book. And I repeat – that is absolutely the film-maker’s prerogative. It’s not her job to match *my* interpretation of the book.
      “The film makes you realise just how needy they both are”. Good point.
      Did I call this film “small”? I don’t think so – because I do not want to belittle it. It courageously addresses a massive issue, and that is more than admirable. And it deals with real people, which makes the story even more extraordinary.

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      • No, you didn’t call it ‘small’. That’s just a response to some of the reactions I have seen on the net. I’ve noticed that a lot of people have reacted differently to just how depressing or upbeat the film is with most of them agreeing with you that the film seems more positive. I’ve thought about this and wondered if it is to do with how recently people have read the book. I have read a few comments from a few who said that they had only just finished the book before they saw the film. Was the initial shock of the book still so clear in their minds that the film just couldn’t live up to what was going on in their imaginations? On the other hand, I haven’t read the book for a year and so, perhaps, the film reminded me of the awfulness of it all and this had a big impact. Am I making sense?

        And it was very rude of me not to thank you for all three parts of your review: I have thoroughly enjoyed reading such detailed accounts and looking at all your lovely photos.

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        • Ah, good – thanks for clearing that up Jaydee!
          I read the book over a year ago, when news first surfaced of this project. So in a way the mental visuals have already paled. And still I had vivid memories of what Hare described.
          I think a lot of it really depends on personal tolerance levels. I suspect mine are higher than I always thought. (Had a similar reaction to Richard’s involvement in Hannibal), and I expected to be hit harder than I was, partly on the basis of my own awareness of the issues. (I lived in such an inner-city problem area of Dublin for a short while in the mid-1990s when Dublin was the heroin capital of Europe.)
          No thanks necessary, Jaydee – I am glad if we can discuss this rationally. The value of the film is without doubt; I was more concerned with the artistic realisation. But I think it is great if we talk and thus signal that the film is a launchpad for discussion.

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          • I wasn’t that affected by the book, actually, except to feel professionally angry with Hare and his failings. Like you, I know this sort of situation well both through my work and also because my daughter, as a student, moved into that very area of Leeds. I warned her it was rough but she said it was convenient. She was mugged, her friend came home with a battered face one evening after being assaulted and a car was burned right on their doorstep. I just shrugged – well, if you must live in that area, what do you expect? She became very streetwise. Nothing in the book was new to me and so I wasn’t shocked. But, when I saw the film, it was so remarkably well acted and the houses were so unkempt and the lives of the characters so hopeless that it brought a lot back to me – not from the book but from my own experiences. It truly was very real and in this sense had a big impact on me. The impact didn’t come straight away, interestingly, but I found myself thinking about it and talking about it for days afterwards with my husband.

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  12. I understood you to be saying: the film doesn’t know exactly which story it’s telling (or perhaps: theme from the book it wishes to put in the foreground); it lacks the edgy or gritty presentation that would make it attractive to a broader arthouse audience outside the UK; the film is (as a consequence, or in addition) cinematographically and auditorily less than interesting; in its occasional attempts to be edgy it looks silly. It was an honest assessment, which I appreciated reading. The problem of the film backing away from the book’s willingness not to leave us with a coherent, uplifting message has been apparent since the first, trailer, though, so I am not surprised.

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    • In much less words than me you have put most of my impressions into a nutshell. But despite those criticisms, I want to make clear that there is value and worth in this film, and that I appreciate the makers for taking on this project. After all, a film can reach more people than a book.

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      • I’m glad I didn’t misunderstand your impressions.

        A film can reach more people than a book, if people see it, and that’s the unfortunate consequence, to my mind, of your assessment. I’m glad when people take on hard projects, as well — but this isn’t school and people don’t get an A for effort. With all respect to Candida Brady and her colleagues for their effort, if no one sees the film, and the rights are sold for however many years so the story cannot be remade by a filmmaker with more reach, then the story is lost as a film work. In the end, the book was a bestseller, so it’s not like the story will be forgotten, and Bernard Hare has not been the only British author to write about this theme over the years. Still, it’s sad to learn that a really provocative narrative has been submerged in an also-ran film.

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        • It remains to be seen if my assessment is really representative. Yes, it could’ve been more provocative, but that was my personal POV that is obviously not shared by others. I saw a lot of enthusiastic responses on Twitter.

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          • I think realistically although it is a great story i just don’t think in terms of film it is in actual fact the kind of opportunity we expect it to be, not in terms of film-making and its means. I think in retrospect there is a good reason why it hasn’t been made into a film sooner and what more could have been done with the material is actually very little in comparison to expectations. (Unless anyone can find 18 year olds capable of playing 10-12 year olds that is) The adults in the film actually tell a story that is nearly identical and in parts even bleaker than the book, with very few omissions and they tell it convincingly and effectively, Friel is really stunning and that part is close to the written material. It’s the kids who don’t go nearly as deep as the realities in the book do… I didn’t start off thinking it, but everything i know about how it works tells me that it would simply be impossible, unfortunately. (which is why i believe the opportunity was never really there in the first place as we imagined).

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            • Good point, Hari. I think I completely ignored the fact that some of the reality was too harsh to actually film it with child actors. But the fact that those age-inappropriate bits were left out of the film did not really infringe my review negatively, as neither did the changes in sequence. They initially niggled, but in the wider scheme of things they are marginal.
              At the end of the day, it was always clear that this is a niche film, as, unfortunately, big blockbuster cinema shies away from topics such as this – at least in terms of throwing big money at it and pulling out all the stops for marketing. Niche products can be particularly good, though, and possibly have a greater impact because they are seen by people who are already open to the topic and the message. I am sure the film will be shown to a wider public in some shape or form, be it in art house cinema, or on TV.

              Liked by 1 person

              • i agree on the niche product idea, i guess this is where we are sort of coming from in the tinge of concern about it, that it was always going to be niche and maybe should not have tried to be something else, more wider appealing as the potential audience does not change. I am less sure about distribution, more hopeful than anything else based on story and acting. The story stays strong, i guess with these things and especially with storytelling on TV/film it just needs to be a combination of telling a good story and act it well, which this does, and knowing what your audience is and tell it in a way that hits the mark for the audience, don’t hedge your bets with audiences which are unlikely to come (was i talking to you about the new Dr Who series and the slight muddling of the feel it has as if it doesn’t quite know who it wants to appeal to? as if it is still trying to define its identity with the new doctor.. ah no, somebody else now i remember , but there was a bit of that).
                But it’s a harsh world out there for indies, a good example is Ewan McGregor’s last film, ‘Last days in the desert’ which is another indie. The subject you’d think is interesting enough, his name rings loud and still : http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3513054/releaseinfo?ref_=tt_ql_9
                I wonder of this will ever see the light on big screen? I regret missing it by 1day at the Edi film festival, wish i’d stayed on to see it, as he came to introduce it. But the long list of just festivals tells a story of what an uphill battle this is.
                All we can do i guess is cross all fingers and toes.

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    • all our concerns aside i didn’t really feel the film felt silly at any point in time, maybe some attempts weren’t entirely successful, but neither did they miss the mark by quite as much as to become not credible.. my thoughts at least.. nor can it be said that the film itself has a fully coherent positive message as it doesn’t quite have that either (ie most other secondary characters are lost and we actually see that) Not defending here, just shading.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for your excellent review. I have the book,and think I will postpone reading it for a while in the hope that I might get to see the film first.

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  14. Thanks for your review Guylty. I haven’t read the book although I may do after I see the film, or rather ‘if’ I see the film, fingers crossed that happens. I hope a TV station picks it up, it certainly sounds worthy of an audience and I can’t imagine how the film makers, actors and real life subjects would feel should their efforts sit unseen and forgotten somewhere like those it depicts once did. xx

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    • Don’t let me hold you back from reading the book, Austoz. Yes, it is challenging material, but it is really well-written and contains humour beside the more difficult stuff.
      I so agree with you – it would be a shame if the film did not see a release. But please don’t think that my somewhat critical assessment is representative. I do believe the film is worthy of seeing, and that it also has an audience.

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      • Oh no Guylty, you haven’t held me back from reading the book. It’s just not something that I would usually read although I’m quite interested in it now that I know more about it.
        I didn’t think your review was in any way critical of the film. I read it as objective and took it as face value and not negative and even if you loathed it that wouldn’t bother me either, I’d still want to see it, so please stop smacking yourself ok… :o)

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  15. That was a thoughtful review. I’m sure I never would have noticed the one-time use of film techniques like the Urban voice-over. That you did, and felt the inconsistency, is helpful artistic commentary.
    I read the book, too. So it always is interesting to see how the film feels compared to the tone and depth you personally get reading the original text.

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    • Thank you, Trudy – I hope it came across in my review that I have no intention of criticising the film to death. I was delighted it was made, and I was glad that it pointed me to the book, too.
      As for noticing bits – we all have our tunnel vision 😉 I am sure that other people notice other details, good or bad, that I never saw. That’s the interesting bit about reading many reviews…

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  16. Ganz lieben Dank für die ausführliche review. Jetzt wünschte ich noch mehr auch der Rest der Welt könnte den Film bald sehen. Um selbst beurteilen zu können wie sehr er sehr harmonisiert wurde. Was kann man dem Zuschauer zumuten? Das ist wohl immer die Gradwanderung, hätten sie das Buch 1:1 umgesetzt, dann wäre die FSK recht hoch ausgefallen und ich befürchte es würde sich kein weltweiter Verleiher finden 😦 Die Meisten Zuschauer steigen bei der Gewalt und Misshandlung von Kindern aus….
    Also versucht man den Film “massentauglich” zu machen, damit er (was ja in unserem Sinne ist) weltweit in die Kinos kommt. Insgesamt haben sie den Mittelweg gefunden?

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    • ich denke echt es ist in Wirklichkeit nichtmal in erster Linie was man den Zuschauern zumuten kann, naturlich reduziert das die Masse der moglichen Zuschauer. aber sehr viel eher was man mit Kinder auf der Leinwand spielen kann und es ist leider in diesem Fall sehr viel weniger als im Buch dargestellt wird.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Reading the book then seeing the film is normally a setup for a letdown. I think you have tried to be objective and provide a n insight into the film but I sense a niggling disappointment in your writing. However, if I have chance I will still see the film. Multiply focus sounds more realistic, the story belongs to three people each with their own baggage if this comes across, which you indicate it does, then it will appear messy to a viewer seeking a single focus. Not read book but I guess it’s a first person narrative which tends towards a stronger personal involvement. Thank you for taking time to share your experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, reading the source material before seeing the visualisation is not always ideal, I guess. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the film was a disappointment. It wasn’t. It is well made, it has fantastic performances. For some reason I thought it might be a bit grittier – but that is just ME, based on previous experiences with films of that genre.
      I really do not want to put anyone off the film or the book. They are completely different media and made with different audiences in mind.
      You are probably right, I had a single focus, based on my own interpretation of the book. Not everyone felt like me, and I was pleased to see the film has been received with a lot of enthusiasm by those who saw it.

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      • Can you explain in what way you thought it could have been ‘grittier’? I thought it kept very close to the book. The streets they filmed were real Leeds streets in the grottier areas. The interiors of the homes were as untidy, filthy and covered with garbage as the homes I have been inside during the course of my work, if not a bit worse. Greta was so sad, pathetic and repulsive that I wondered why Chop ever thought she was ‘fun’. Moments which showed Chop in a positive light were few (and I could just imagine the sentimental approach of a Hollywood director where Chop would have been portrayed as a saint). And Doc’s chief purpose seemed to be to challenge Chop’s anarchic attitudes and his collusion with the kids. And I was even disappointed that the ‘nice’ parts of the book, such as the camping or the extent to which he taught them stuff, were not played up more to give contrast and relief from the misery: these scenes were very brief. And I think I laughed more when I read the book. I was very concerned when the blurb said that Chop was a ‘saviour’ that it would be very glossy. But it wasn’t. From my experiences in Leeds and elsewhere, it was very real.

        The only thing they left out that would have made it more appalling was the child prostitution and Brady has given her (quite valid) reasons for this.

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        • When it comes to the contents of the film – they were no doubt as gritty and as real as you describe, and I did not really find fault with that. Ok, yes, I think the sexualisation and prostitution were missing, but I FULLY understand and accept why that was left out.
          My opinion that it was not gritty enough really refers to the artistic realisation of the film. I found the film fairly conventionally made (that is not meant as a negative statement, but just a description of the cinematic devices used), and I, personally, would have preferred the film to challenge me with more extreme editing (fast cuts, stop-start, more contrast in colours, possibly even b/w) and a hard-hitting soundtrack. Those are purely aesthetic preferences – which would definitely make the film less mainstream and therefore could easily hinder distribution. OTOH such aesthetic choices could work as distinguishing features.
          At the end of the day, your impression of the film as an unending picture of misery is just as valid as mine as slightly too happy. We come at it from different POVs, with different aesthetic preferences. A review can only ever be a very personal POV. There is no more authority in my opinion than in anyone else’s, and I am not attacking the film-makers’ artistic decisions, just stating my reaction to it.

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          • I was curious, Guylty, to hear your POV and not being critical. It’s good that, after your excellent review, those of us who saw it can offer different opinions and I apologise if I sounded brusque in any way. I can understand why your interest in photography should make you concentrate on that aspect, although the stills we have from the film are sometimes very good/startling/artistic, I think. Since Brady said that the film was really a one man (her husband) and his dog effort plus herself, I think it was absolutely made on a shoe-string and you can’t, presumably, afford top-flight cinematographers. I even wonder what RA was paid. Not much, I should think. But, I don’t think it would have been much better, even if tons of money had been poured into it. Before I saw it, I was saying on the net that I thought that the subject-matter made it more suitable for a TV drama. After seeing it, I am of the same opinion. But, knowing what great dramas are shown on TV these days, that is in no way a derogatory opinion. I think it will reach a wider audience, in fact, if the BBC can be persuaded to pick it up and then they sell it on to a wider audience or put it out on DVD.

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  18. It sounds as though the film was heartwarming without veering over into sentimentality. That’s a difficult balance to achieve, especially when working with children. Personally I’m intrigued by his choice to play this type of character, and I don’t see a “small” film (if we are to call it that) as a negative. Mr. H. does all sorts of small projects and has throughout his career–he picks things that he likes, or projects done by people he knows and respects. The only negative is when the fans don’t get to see it because of a lack of distribution.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, there was a heart-warming effect to the film. Which is good in itself. It’s not how the book comes across, btw.
      I think “small” films often tell us more about an actor and their opinions, than the big, commercially successful projects they are part of. They remind me of the “personal projects” that you often see on commercial photographers’ portfolio pages: They may do the fashion and beauty for a living. But the personal projects are for the soul. They are often, where their interests really lie. Agreeing to work on a project such as UATSC tells me that the participants are interested in social issues, and that they are not primarily interested in being part of multi-million dollar productions and world-wide box office numbers, but that critical acclaim and worth-while stories are equally important to them. I think it is a win-win for them, despite potentially smaller wages, and the only ones who potentially lose out are fans who may not get to see such a project…

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      • Exactly. But at the very least, the fans learn something interesting about RA, and he gets to play an entirely different kind of role. That may be part of the attraction for him as well, doing something other than the alpha male…

        Liked by 2 people

        • And especially so since he has hinted before that he does not find himself alpha male. It may also mean that he finds such roles more difficult because they are closer to him, hence he has previously avoided them? Guesswork.

          Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your not-so-fangirlish review.
      I’ve read the book this summer and although I was sometimes shocked by the rough circumstances the kids have to stand, I’ve always had a positive impression of the outcome of Chop and his influence on the kids. We’ve learned at the end of the book and more recently by the information concerning the film that at least some kids were able to overcome their desolate life. Chop was only one human being, not the messiah and he did his best to be a friend to them, no more, no less.
      I’d really like to see the film. And I think, it’s an universal theme, this could happen nowadays and everywhere, this should not be the problem for marketing. Think of “Slumdog Millionaire” which was critically acclaimed and sold worldwide despite its local aspect (only as an example, not for putting on the same level).
      IMO, Candida Brady should attend a lot more film festivals if its still possible (regarding the production year and release date).

      Perhaps we are simply not used to see RA in a positive, optimistic role and are always looking for a hidden problem, buried deep inside his past :). But, to start with, a disillusioned social worker will do!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for your comment, Camassia. I agree with everything you say, particularly with seeing RA play a less stereotypical hero. He filled that role very well, and the whole film has enough meat to be shown outside of the UK.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you so much for your honest review.

    I’ve always said a movie based on a book, is in reality, someone’s filmed fanfiction of said book. It’s really impossible to do the book justice. One can just do their best. Personally, I had a difficult time with the book – it pulled me out of my comfort zone – but I still want to see it.

    If for no other reason than I think Chop – in Richard’s form – is sexy!

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    • Agreed, it’s impossible to match everyone’s interpretation of a book with a film. I was aware of that when I was trying to commit to some sort of opinion on the film. The book *is* difficult, no doubt. The film, too, but in a different way.
      (I hope you get to see for yourself that scruffy social worker types are indeed quite sexy ;-))

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Thanks so much for your thoughtful and honest review. I started reading the book about a chapter at a time on my lunch hours many months ago, then went out of town and the book was lost under a stack of veterinary magazines. I unearthed it a couple of months later, but haven’t gone back to it, and now I think I may just wait. I’d rather see the film without comparing it to the book, now. Hopefully. I have faith that it will become available in some shape or form, though maybe a long wait. Which sucks, because from everything you’ve written, I have high hopes for it to be a touching and moving film. And certainly more gritty than my usual movie fare, however that compares to the book.

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    • It is a touching and moving film, indeed, notwithstanding my own assessment of it. I still hope – with everyone else – that it will be shown to a wider audience and affect other people.

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  21. Thanks for putting your thoughts to paper in spite it being quite hard. I can only hope the distributors will spend as much time thinking about the film as we did, that would bode well 🙂
    -) Even before i read your thoughts i went back the other day reading the reviews for Trainspotting again trying to see what people made of it when it came out. I’d also forgotten that another gritty film i loved was also based on another one of his novels, Filth was also an Irvine Welsh book. I think Hare’s book stands very well with Welsh’, the films are another matter. I think the fundamental difference (because these themes otherwise are very close) are the kids.
    I felt a lot like you did (and i guess in a way i blame Hare, Irving and Danny Boyle/Transpotting for my high expectations) but i do believe a lot of the tone is due to the impossibilities of having to portray children on screen. Some of my doubts were also swayed in that QA by what Hare himself said. I thought it was to light and happy in parts and on the overall message, but then Hare said he was happy it had a woman’s touch and a family feel to it. It seemed it was his message too, although the books is less emotional on the issue and reality prevails. But seeing him and hearing him talk made the emotion behind it more obvious and it sort of made it clearer that he had acted with his heart.
    It’s not what i felt reading the book but it seems to be what he felt maybe? Not sure… I think i was somewhat surprised after reading the book by how warm and soft spoken a person he is in real life. Maybe in that respect the film reveals more than the book does?

    It was this aspect that mellowed my impressions of it and i felt i couldn’t be more demanding or think the messaging was maybe off the mark somewhat if the main person involved felt it reflected his view of the matter. And thinking back even in the book i did feel that one life saved and one child sheltered was good, that it was s positive message to give. The overall situation is bleak but the one small hope is important enough to fight for. (because if it weren’t than to hell with it all and who cares about the failing system… )
    She did amplify this message a lot.

    I agree with you on the visuals, i too liked those effects but they were varied and not consistently applied (question of experience, clearly) and i would have liked more of those too. A more experienced director would have been able to push those buttons more consistently. (It is the kind of choices Boyle was able to make more consciously for Trainspotting, knowing what to use when for maximum effect).
    That aspect does worry me in terms of distribution as i don’t know what things are considered in terms of buying the film, does the story outweigh weaknesses? It is a good story and it also has on the positive side that it is well acted, so hopefully this will keep the balance in its favour. For me it did. It is hard reading the book to not want this story to be told.

    Some of the messaging is due to the intent for commercial distribution and thinking of a larger audience. I don’t think that should be a consideration actually, quite the contrary. In this case i think it matters less because they ended up in the same point due to the constraints of having kids in it. (otherwise i would have said made it grittier, it will make for an even stronger story and the ray of hope would have affected the audiences even more). But no can do in this case, not with the original ages of the kids.

    I am not sure about the credits, they worked well on the black in the end and i think the beginning is is short enough 😉 Didn’t remember them much tbh.

    My hope/wish is that the story, theme and good acting will carry it; yes it could have been tightened in parts but overall even the visuals i liked enough to overlook some of these things.

    Was hoping to get round to sharing my various other more subjective impressions of the weekend, include thought on this role for RA.. hopefully i will, needless to say i totally agree, more roles like these please. Figures and icons and heroes are ok but we are missing people (though i would argue that Proctor was more man, person than hero 😉 i have to defend Proctor, always ;-))

    PS The fundamental problem is Hare wrote such a good book, but it only hit home when i sat in front of a screen that it is a book that can never be translated to film the way it is written. An adult story played by kids…

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    • Thanks for your long comment, Hari – I have to compose my answer in a separate document in order to properly reply 😉
      The comparison with Transpotting/Boyle was an obvious one, I suppose. Of course, it is always unfair to compare. I think you have nailed the important difference – the age of the actors involved.
      I must have missed Hare’s words on the panel there (I wonder what distracted me…), and thanks for repeating them here. The author’s own assessment of the film is really important, and I am glad to hear that he approved of the family feel, as you call it.
      As for the aesthetic choices and their implications for distribution – essentially what you are saying, is what I was worried about, too. The story is strong, and of course it is unique in its own way. But there are similar social dramas, and in order to distinguish itself from them, the film must have its unique selling point. The acting and the fact that the story is told authentically, with the involvement of Hare, is a very strong point in its favour.
      I still hate the font 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      • aww, don’t worry i jus enjoyed reading everyone’s opinions and was replaying things in my mind. Would love to have the film handy to replay some stuff (objectification mode in and out ;-))
        And i agree some of the gritty feel of things they couldn’t show could have been compensated with cuts and visual approaches, which for me too re-enforced the lighter feel rather than the opposite (colours for example). There was probably a weak link in editing tbh as i also remember CB saying somewhere in an interview or someplace that they had problems with editing and this is why it took so long to finish.
        Agree about the font, i don’t hate it that much but i don’t think it was a good choice either, over-fussy. Better to keep things simple and not detract from the content, i would have gone with something blocky, stark, like the cover of the book (And there we are, at the book again ;-)) Maybe that would be predictable but in some things maybe better to fulfil expectations?

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  22. on the TV vs cinema release been thinking about it and the conclusion is sort of the same, it doesn’t actually make a difference that much, a channel would make the same considerations about it as a cinema distributor would in terms of money, except they would think about it in terms of marketing revenue.
    It’s a hard one as the 2 questions are distinct: does it have an audience, the answer is clearly yes, will it make money… well, it depends, will it make a profit from sales, the potential is there given that the initial budget was surely low. The question is will it make the distributor profit, will it bring in more than it costs to distribute in cinemas… and there i wonder because i don’t know exactly what it costs. (But i know it is not cheap as worldwide simultaneous releases are prohibitively expensive, which is why they nearly never happen – so that is a worry).

    Where it has a better chance because of these reasons is with a channel who would care enough about the theme, knowing that it would have an audience, but not worry or care about the money. There are those out there, but the other ways should be tried first in any case.

    Liked by 1 person

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