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by nic wistreich | august, 2000

Purely Belter


Since recovering from the accident that was Blame It On the Bellboy Mark Herman has shot three working class films set in the north of England. The first, the brilliant Brassed Off was an upbeat tale that pitched its characters as heroes, deservedly winning the Writer’s Guild Award for Best Screenplay, and opening Sundance in 1996. His follow-up Little Voice was originally to be directed by one Sam Mendes, who eventually got bored arguing with the Weinsteins over the script and went to make a little Oscar winning film instead. I don’t think Bob and Harvey have ever recovered. Caricaturing the council estate characters more than in Brassed Off, the film did well with at the awards, but failed to set the box office alight.

Completing the trilogy (Herman told me he would not return to working class films for a long time) is Purely Belter, his bleakest yet.

Adapted from Jonathon Tulloch’s book The Season Ticket, Belter tells of Gerry and Sewell, two broke and depressed teens that dream of getting a season ticket for their local soccer heroes – Newcastle United. They decide to quit smoking and drinking, and put all their money towards the thousand pound cost of a pair of tickets. Setting their mind to raising the cash, Gerry and Sewell invent all sorts of schemes – from selling junk to scrap merchants and shoplifting to babysitting and some breaking-and-entering.

Of course it isn’t quite that simple, and the film offers a whole soap opera of crisis and traumas. Gerry’s alcoholic father turns up to steal furniture and attacks his mum, who’s dying of some bronchial infection. Meanwhile Gerry’s sister is on the streets addicted to crack, smack and tac (Geordie for cannabis), and Sewell’s girlfriend comes attached with a ten-tonne ‘meat-packer’ boyfriend.

As ever, Herman, unfolds the story deftly, and there’s plenty of humour to lighten the painful drudgery of the character’s lives. Still Herman’s stepping in common territory where directors such as Ken Loach, Shane Meadows, Mike Leigh and Lynne Ramsay have already made their mark with some brilliant films. I couldn’t help but think, why? Herman sure isn’t working class, and I imagine the bulk of the people who watch this film won’t be. Is ‘poverty chic’ a way of guaranteeing award recognition, or just an easy option? I’m not saying he shouldn’t have made the film, but there’s so many like it already (think Kes meets Fever Pitch but more depressing), so many that are better, what’s he hoping to achieve? I’m probably being unfair because it is a decent film, but after the brilliance of Brassed Off and the warm humour of Little Voice, it’s a step down.

Dir: Mark Herman, UK, 2000

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