Somers Town, the latest feature from cult British director Shane Meadows, is the charming story of two 16-year-old boys who find friendship when they fall for the same French waitress.
Tommo (This Is England‘s Thomas Turgoose) is running away from an unhappy life in Nottingham when he finds himself in the Somers Town area of London. However, on his first night, he’s beaten up and his bag is stolen. Marek (Piotr Jagiello) is the son of Polish construction worker Marius (Ireneusz Czop), who is working on the renovations to turn St Pancras station into the new international terminus for Eurostar trains. Marius can’t afford to send Marek to school, so Marek spends his days exploring Somers Town and taking photographs. When Marek meets the bruised and broken Tommo, he decides to hide Tommo in his room and hope his father doesn’t find out. After a bit of light stealing to find Tommo some replacement clothes – Tommo’s idea – Marek introduces Tommo to his muse, the beautiful waitress Maria (Eliza Lasowksi). However, when Maria is called home, the boys hatch a plan to visit her in Paris.
Somers Town has a good script by Paul Fraser and a strong young cast. Meadows combines the two through his preferred working method of improvisation to create naturalistic acting and dialogue, allowing for moments of both comedy and pathos. Similarly, the film is nicely shot in black and white by director of photography Natasha Braier in an attempt to find a visual way of uniting the old and new architecture of Somers Town.
However, these successes are overshadowed by the questions that the plot raises about what it is exactly that Meadows is trying to say with Somers Town. Why are almost all the characters in the movie immigrants, and legal ones at that? Why choose to set the movie around St Pancras International, given that this is where future immigrants will be alighting? Perhaps Meadows wants to offer an alternative vision of England to the white nationalist one he presented in This Is England? Maybe he wants to show an England where legal immigrant workers are essential to the success of a project of national pride like St Pancras International? The disappointing answer to all of these questions is that if Somers Town seems like one big advert for Eurostar, it’s because it is! The film started life at an advertising agency as an idea for a short promotional video, which Eurostar then decided to produce as a full-length movie.
Meadows has always been very open about directing commercials for companies such as McDonald’s as a way of funding his films, which is fine as long as the two things remain separate, but this is a different Filet-O-Fish altogether and feels like deception on the part of Meadows and the movie makers. Meadows is going to have his work cut out defending against the inevitable accusations that he has sold out. Like this one.