CE Films - Part 5 - 1995-1996

6 Jan 1995
Film | Dir. Danny Boyle | Wr. John Hodge
Role: David Stephens (accountant).

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Chiclit: "Danny Boyle's big screen début. Part crime story and part psychological study. The narrative is like this: When the new roommate dies, the other three inhabitants of the flat find his suitcase, full of cash. Much plotting ensues to assure that they get to keep the money. I was quite interested to read that Boyle made the cast share living space while rehearsing for the movie.

"Anyway, when a new flatmate turns up dead – and they find a suitcase full of money – the fun commences. Christopher's character is very controlled – but from the very beginning there are hints towards the opposite – the way the other two roomies joke with him and mention his group therapy lets you know he is not completely one of them (also, he wears a suit and tie and leaves at the same time every morning – while the journalist works freelance and the doctor works nights). He is reluctant to take the money at first, but then, convinced he'd been a loser so far, he decides to take a risk and live a little."

Alex: "The change comes when he looks at his job and his daily routine from the side, and probably as a continuation of his (consciously developed?) striving to fall in with those people he emphatically calls 'friends'."

C: "Unfortunately he draws the short straw (I tend to think McGregor's character plans it that way, but not sure), when it comes to actual fulfilment of their plans. The controlled accountant quietly starts deteriorating. He takes to living in the crawl space, withdrawing mentally and physically."

A: "Together with the music, the imagery of this almost childlike figure sitting alone in the dark, flicking the torch on and off, etches into your mind.

"While the other two people are more or less transparent (and far from affable), it is the deformation of common David Stephens that draws your attention. He horrifies his friends even when they should be thankful. And still I'm tempted to stay on his side, not least because it was his crime-mates who technically unleashed the madness in him (and constructive madness is the most frightening of all). He's perhaps even a hero, albeit of a very wrong type."

C: "Chris is cool and scary in this role, slowly turning more and more crazy – you realize he has lost sight of who he is and becomes like an animal, lurking, crouching in the darkness. It’s done with subtlety, though, through the eyes and the body language – he never overdoes the crazy."

A: "Anachronisms and certain coldness or rawness of the sets also help to build the atmosphere, and lift it from being a standard gritty criminal drama. It has a subtle dream-like feel, or that of a tale, by having David as a narrator (it's only in the end that you realize what the close-ups of his face are really about) – instead of personalizing, it makes it more abstract – "
This could've been any city, they're all the same" – and at the same time pins it down as David's story."

Conclusion: A must.

C: "It's a highly entertaining, mainstream type film. Well thought of by many and certainly an early glimpse at some big talents – well worth watching, at least twice! (However, there is a lot of blood, etc. – and it's a bit dated, if you are fan of current police procedurals on TV, you have to let a little bit of knowledge go – I kept thinking about all the DNA they were leaving around.)"

A: "And if you're crushed, for you're suspecting this might not be your bowl of tea, do try another Danny Boyle's film 'Millions' first – it's 'Shallow Grave' for minors (loot & loft included)."

DVD Notes:
2009 "Film4" Region 2 (special edition). English HOH subtitles.
Extras: Commentary by D. Boyle; Behind-the-scenes 'Digging Your Own Grave'.
Available since 2012 as Criterion Collection special edition Region 1 DVD & Blu-ray (restored digital transfer; audio commentaries by D. Boyle and by J. Hodge; new interviews with CE, K. Fox, and E. McGregor; 'Digging Your Own Grave'; A. Macdonald and K. Macdonald's video diary; an essay by critic P. Kemp).

Watch: CE compilation from the BTS


16 Feb 1995
TV mini series | Dir. Stephen Whittaker | Wr. Jimmy McGovern
Role: Drew Mackenzie (teacher).

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Alex: "'Hearts and Minds' is a story about a young teacher, Drew Mackenzie, who asks to be assigned to a tough school in Liverpool. With neophyte's fervour he throws himself against the sickly educational system, and the decayed structure cannot hold him, instead it crashes right onto his head. Like in the story he reads for his class, Jacobs' 'The Monkey's Paw', all too soon he'll desperately need that third wish.

"Mackenzie teaches English, and in his first lesson he recites a traditional text that's used to illustrate the rhythm of language – 'Cargoes' by John Masefield. You could analyse the whole mini series just by looking at the dichotomies in this poem (f.ex. 'stately Spanish galleon' with 'gold moidores' vs. 'dirty British coaster' with 'cheap tin trays'). It's not simply about the bourgeois vs. the working class, it's more about the general stagnancy that twists something good into something evil.

"Similarly to 'Our Friends In The North', this series also has multiple deeply developed characters. Unlike OFITN, it keeps them all successfully in check, and at the same time they are well-established and convincing. One exception would be Drew's wife, who unfortunately is deprived of a personality (you can't disagree when he throws at her, 'Well what could you do?'). Still, the effect of this normal, nice family becoming completely invisible for Drew (entangled in his revolution) is undeniably powerful.
"School life itself is depicted with quite a flair. There are some lovely over the top moments, but you might find that the line between parody and reality is extremely thin. Reality as in the fable about the ant and the cricket: "we Ants never borrow, we Ants never lend" – the ultimate, cynical survival formula (just like his sarcastic, but supportive colleague Mo advises), not exactly 'love your neighbour as you love yourself'. Though this is not a story about an idealist. It would be beautiful and easy – and boring – if it was so. And this is not a story of maturing. You don't grow up in such circumstances. You either go barmy or become a cynical manipulator yourself.

"It stops being a typical educational woes drama (topical as it still is) when you notice the truly biblical proportions of suffering Drew has to go through, how much aggression is aimed at him: Mental, as manipulation and ostracism, physical, from random and funny in its absurdity, to persistent and bordering on abuse. It's a little scary how readily Drew accepts the suffering routine, it's just something that has to be done – like hours that have to be put in – and it will be better in the future. Problem is, these rules are not universal. And he is not a saint – all too soon we find him artlessly trying to play his adversaries' games.

""Timothy Winters comes to school / With eyes as wide as a football pool" (Charles Causley, 'Timothy Winters'). Well that's your Drew Mackenzie. He's landed on a different, uninhabitable planet. And even if you lay your life for its well-being, you shouldn't expect a plaque. Especially if you're only a might-be-hero. It was in the fourth and last episode that I noticed it. Drew, burning his teaching books in his backyard – I've encountered that before. In Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure' (the scene is not in the feature film 'Jude'). And it just clicked. It's practically the same story. Not as in the film, but as in the novel.

"In the film Jude desires education itself, the wisdom (and to change the society if you have to aim wider). In the book, and in 'Hearts and Minds' the main character wants to become educated – and in latter case, to also bring the knowledge further – in order to better himself. For Drew – although he's fairly good at teaching and needs these small successes as air – it's not a holy mission to deliver the disadvantaged children of the north west, it's more of a one man's quest to remake himself.

"For both Jude and Drew it's physical nature that has to be fought, not just the class limits. Despite the surrender to his torturers, Drew is not weak, he actually has strength, but he disables it except when violence is directed at someone else and he has to interfere. There are hints Drew was far more aggressive before he became a teacher. And there's the catch, he did succeed in adaptation – he achieved the duality of quixotic but meek façade and private life where he can be a strong coward.

"Moreover, Drew has his own agenda, like helping his relatives, or another example – the disrupted school play in the end of the series. It's not as much for the pupils' sake, as his own personal revenge. It's ironic how the final venting of aggression through others' hands, dubious win on personal plan, is a defeat for him as a teacher. He didn't manage to become the Iron Man, as in the story by Ted Hughes that Drew reads for his kids, where a menace transforms into a saviour, also bringing the good side out in another monster and achieving peace on Earth.

"It's absolutely logical that Drew chucks it all in. The only thing reminding of a victory is that he makes out of it alive and with his family still there for him. Professionally – what future is there for him? Is it back to the factory? This fragile not-yet-absolutely-tragic ending is in danger of being short-lived if he doesn't find an alternative way to move on."

Conclusion: A must – if you can get your hands on it. Nothing less than criminal it's not released on DVD yet.

15 Jan 1996
TV series | Wr. Peter Flannery
Ep. 1: '1964', dir. Pedr James
ep. 2: '1966', dir. Stuart Urban
ep. 3: '1967', dir. Simon Cellan Jones, Pedr James & Stuart Urban
ep. 4: '1970', dir. Pedr James & Stuart Urban
ep. 5: '1974', dir. Pedr James
ep. 6: '1979', ep. 7: '1984', ep. 8: '1987', ep. 9: '1995', dir. Simon Cellan Jones
Role: Nicky Hutchinson (disillusioned idealist).

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Alex: "The series, written by Peter Flannery, tells about four friends: Nicky, Mary, Tosker and Geordie from Newcastle. You follow their lives from 1964, when they were 19-20, and till 1995, when they're in their fifties. Social and political issues against love and friendship, the official against the private weave from being in focus to creating a background for a study of these four people. Geordie (planned for Eccleston originally) was one of the first big roles for Daniel Craig, and Nicky Hutchinson was a great step forward for CE.

"Hutchinson goes through being a young idealistic political activist via anarchism and one more bout of official politics to being an established independent photographer, with a huge mess of private and inner life as a constant.

"The way you see both wins and losses, Nicky's character attains an impressive level of realism. The positive turns have darker undercurrents, the negative downs might bring elation. He's not always likeable, and Eccleston has called him 'anti-hero'.

Anything's possible, except the things we really want," Nicky once said. There's though no premeditated plan. You see his search for the goal, the way, the means. Futile attempts and inner victories. You are shown the changes of the personality, development – never reaching perfection or completion, rather emphasizing the circles his life insists on going in, testing his moral backbone, his beliefs. His life: When he's smiling lopsidedly or laughing through tears, or when he's choosing his cross himself – and this life, the meat-grinder, loves volunteers.

"Nicky's portrayal is profound. Extensive cast offers many brilliant performances as well. 'Our Friends In The North' deals with serious themes, but it also has its lighter moments. The changing of time is depicted with care and in detail (I've got no gripe about ageing effects), and the stories of the four main characters are both intertwining, mirroring each other and, at times, radically different – minimizing monotony and adding layers to the overall narrative.

"If you have to nitpick, the only thing could be the surprising scale the context acquires when the writers venture into the exotics of London's underbelly and expose the backstage of the police. As if telling 30 years of a person's (four persons', even) life wasn't enough to send your mind reeling (and for a silly sod like me power-cuts and miners' strikes are much more exciting). As the series progresses, moving from the original play to the specially written script, this imbalance is taken care of, and the three main heroes are again in the limelight. One can only wonder what could have been shown instead of the hoo-ha that already seems somewhat dated.

"Still, all and any critique serves mostly to preserve the relative stability of the mind, so you don't fall over the brink.

"You might enjoy the series if you're into politics, but it's no hindrance if it's something you loathe. For one, the series is 100% internationally accessible, and then, you will be affected by the sheer directness and relentlessness of the stories (especially if you can personally connect to the events, big or small – and inter-human level is enormously important there). Even the glimpses of the untold (f. ex. in the form of Nicky's photo exhibition – when you suddenly realize he WAS there, where all these gruesome events took place) breathe the same intensity. And when you smile with a character, it really gets to you."

Conclusion: Highly recommended.

DVD Notes:
2002 "BMG" Region 2 (4 disc box-set). Extras: Filmographies for cast; Soundtrack listing; Bonus Disc: Interviews w/ G. McKee and CE; Retrospective from the makers of the series; Info/story board for the un-screened episode; Photo gallery. On covers: Timeline; Genealogical tree.
"Simply Media" Region 2 vanilla box-set now available (2010).

Watch: CE interview