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On the Wirral in the grim early years of Margaret Thatcher's premiership, the opportunities for thrill seeking young men looking to escape 9 to 5 drudgery are what they've always been: sex, drugs, rock n' roll, fashion, football and fighting. Written by
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Surprisingly mature memoir of a time dominated by teenage angst and rebellion.
The year is 1978; the hippies have been replaced by the punk rockers, the depressive artists following acts like Lou Reed, Ultravox and Joy Division under the ever gloomy landscape of Margaret Thatcher's reformed Great Britain. For many it was a time to put your head down and get on with it, no matter how depressing it might have beenand then for other's it was more of an opportunity to let loose; to express the frustration built up inside by the disappointing anti-climax of the nineteen-sixties revolutions; their now forgotten refrain of "all you need is love" now replaced with council flats, minimum wage and a cheap night out at the pub to somehow make up for a day's soul-crushing monotony. Yeah, it wasn't a pretty time, and some people didn't necessarily want to make it any better. Nope, rather it was not uncommon for youngsters of the time who had nothing better to do (no jobs, no prospects, and no educational benefits) to indulge in past-times akin to pouring salt in a wound or prodding at a loose tooth just for the sake of reminding yourself of your dire situation. The country had a massive abscess, and rather than going to dentist to get it seen to, the youth would seek to the anger out through arbitrary fights with rival football fans, just for the sake of it. Sure, in retrospect it might seem a little melodramatic coming from a culture that produced the moody post-punk acts of the seventies, but Awaydays seeks to marry that sense of romance, with something a little more human too.
For the most part, director Pat Holden succeeds in bringing out the potency to Kevin Sampson's novel that strives to overcome the somewhat petty, pedestrian nature of this "football hooliganism" counter-culture. The movie's first act which focuses highly on the utterly detestable and seemingly unredeemable characters who would take part in these shallow acts of psychological transference, is unsurprisingly the weakestbut what comes after is something a little more enlightening and insightful. After spending a good half hour with these chaps that you'd probably find hanging outside your local cinema harassing customer's to buy them a "bevy from the offy", Holden takes some time away from the cliché elements of Sampson's novel (domestic quibbles and teenage angst) and brings the focus onto the budding friendship of its two central characters Elvis (Liam Boyle) and Paul Carty (Nicky Bell) who are more than just drunken thugs with zero prospects.
Carty is an art-school dropout who finds a lifestyle he is suddenly attracted to in the form of Elvis who is an aspiring, romantic artist who also dabbles in a bit of thuggery and drugs to make sure he's not perceived as a "total ****". Both share a common love of girls, popular, rebellious music and of course, footballor rather, beating up football fans. Unfortunately, going by scripture set in vinyl by their Godfather Ian Curtis while this common ground brings them together for short periods of time, it also tears them apart. From the offset, Carty comes off as a day-tripping tourist in search of a few months living like common people, and Elvis as an overly self-conscious sheep who is never quite sure of what he wants or how to get ityeah, teenagers. This in turn with Holden's persistence that his feature be brimming and truthful with the emotional roller-coaster that was teenage life of the time is going to disgruntle viewers, but only because of the subject matter, rather than the way in which he portrays such subjects. Rather, taken from a distance, Awaydays is surprisingly reflective of those troublesome years, but never succumbs to the one-track mind-frame that dominates its central charactersthese guys have more faults than virtues sure, but Holden makes sure to give them more than one dimension that is fleshed out after the first act into a dynamic that is thought-provoking and insightful enough to make you forget their misgivings.
What really helps to keep Awaydays afloat however are the performances of its central cast who, spearheaded by the charismatic and nuanced portrayals of Elvis and Carty, nail the humanist tones that echo throughout Sampson's story. So as the movie goes on, it gets to a certain point where you actually feel for these two guys and their situationyou may not like them, but they become more than just caricature thugs glorifying their right to expression by cutting up strangers' faces. Of course, there are still problems going into the film's closing stages which result largely from the melodrama associated with all this romantic tint put on the two character's plight, but when taken in context of Holden's otherwise extremely grim and bleak tale of late seventies street crime, such minor distractions fail to take any major precedence. The result is a surprisingly mature memoir of a time dominated by teenage angst and rebellion against a rather inhospitable society thatalthough flawedworks far more than it necessarily should.
A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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