Somers Town (2008)

It’s… short. Weighing in at just 70 minutes, it must be one of the shortest commercial features in years (and I’ll get back to that “commercial” designation in a moment); in an age where Hollywood entertainment is getting more and more bloated, it’s kind of stunning to see something quite so short… mind you, it doesn’t have the discipline that the best 70-minute wonders of the past used to display, there’s a bit of a looseness at work here; had it been tightened up some, it might’ve been a tidier 50 minutes or so. Still, I kind of like the idea that Shane Meadows decided the film would only be as long as he felt it should be rather than try and force it to a certain minimum length (it might be loose but it doesn’t feel padded, there’s a difference), and though it might be a bit slight it’s still nice, a perfectly good bit of British working class social realism. Plotwise, it’s about two boys, one who’s fleeing an otherwise undescribed situation in Nottingham, one who’s a Polish kid living in a broken home with his pisshead dad who works on building the new Eurostar station nearby; two basically lonely boys who bond over various things, particularly a young girl from Paris. Nice stuff, the “bromance” is pulled off with some charm; as Meadows says, it’s the opposite of This Is England in a number of ways.

However, what really seems to have caught the interest of some folks at least is the fact that the film was produced by Eurostar at the suggestion of an ad agency… there’s an interesting BBC article which highlights some quite stunning examples of product placement and ponders whether this film represents the future of it, not just having the boys travel to Paris on the Eurostar train (as they do at the end) but having Eurostar themselves make the film (and there’s the whole further question of whether this is better than traditional placement, and is it better to fund an essentially arthouse filmmaker like Meadows this way than a big Hollywood production; does the fact that Meadows got the money make it OK). But it’s hard to see the film as a commercial for Eurostar, cos it’s not really hammering you with the product, and the train trip at the end actually has an almost fantasy quality to it; shot in colour Super-8, it obviously conflicts with the hard monochrome of the rest of the film. It almost reads to me like wish-fulfilment by one or both of the boys, who are otherwise left in a fairly ordinary situation at the film’s end and the only way they’ll ever get to Paris is in their imaginations, not by Eurostar’s services.

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