A slice of life in an unforgiving London
Shane Meadows specializes in small, piercing tales of working-class England, some of which are comedies (2002’s “Once Upon a Time in the Midlands’’) and some of which slip into colder waters, like 2006’s brilliant “This Is England.’’ Next to that film, Meadows’s latest, “Somers Town,’’ is a trifle: A short black-and-white lark with sharp edges and a soft center. It has its raptures, though, and then some. A disarmingly slight tale of adolescent friendship, “Somers Town’’ is one of those rare movies that seems to discover itself as you watch it.
The film brings back Thomas Turgoose, who was the find of “This Is England.’’ He plays Tomo, arriving in London from the north with no prospects and no place to stay. He’s a kid with a mashed-in bulldog face that really does seem like a metaphor for all of Great Britain: At 14, he’s old before he’s had a chance to be young. Within a night Tomo’s been mugged out of his duffel and his money.
He’s a survivor, though - at least he talks like one - and after charming a businesswoman (Kate Dickie) out of a few pounds, Tomo gloms onto Marek (Piotr Jagiello), a Polish immigrant his own age. Marek is as gentle as Tomo is cocky; every day his rough but loving father (Ireneusz Czop) goes off to work at a construction site and the boy drifts around the North London neighborhood known as Somers Town, taking photos of this and that. Mostly he photographs Maria (Elisa Lasowski), a cafe waitress who’s French, older, and irresistible.
Tomo barges right into Marek’s life, sleeping under the bed and flirting with Maria as only a teenage loudmouth can. He’d be unbearable if he weren’t so obviously lonely. Perched at the fulcrum between childhood and maturity, the two boys become friends simply by hanging out. School’s not an issue, although clothing is, since Tomo has one tracksuit that’s getting fouler by the day. He steals a bag that turns out to contain mostly women’s clothes: the sight of Turgoose done up in overalls and a dress is one of the movie’s odder sight gags, as though the wild boy were being not just tamed but feminized.
“Somers Town’’ has a lovely, flukish freedom of movement, the sort you find in films of the early French New Wave. The black-and-white photography is an affectation, of course, but it’s also an honest reflection of cramped lives and wayward hopes. Tomo and Marek befriend Graham (Perry Benson), a genial, pot-bellied Londoner always peddling one scheme or another; he’d be a hustler if he had the nerve. The film’s lyrical high point comes when the two boys escort Maria home in a found wheelchair, their chivalry sprouting like a flower through concrete.
In the end, there isn’t much to “Somers Town,’’ but you come away with bits stuck in your head: Gavin Clark’s lazily beautiful songs on the soundtrack, the expressions on Tomo’s and Marek’s faces when Maria tells them she loves them both the same, the way the movie lifts off into a final sequence that’s either real or a rainbow fantasy. Meadows captures that brief age when the two can seem indistinguishable.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.