EmptySeldom can such a fine feature film have had such an unlikely genesis as the wonderful coming-of-age comedy-drama "Somers Town," initially commissioned as a 20-minute short by train company Eurostar to publicize its high-speed London-to-Paris connection. It won the top prize Sunday at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Hats off to the organization for allowing director Shane Meadows and writer Paul Fraser to organically develop this seed into a proper movie, one that confirms Meadows as among the most accomplished — and now, after a couple of early-career hiccups, consistent — British filmmakers under 40. While unlikely to repeat the commercial success of Meadows' previous effort, the skinhead saga "This Is England," "Somers Town" is just the kind of heartfelt, superbly observed miniature that will attract passionate admirers wherever it's shown.
Crucial to the film's success are the terrific central performances by Thomas Turgoose (youthful star of "This Is England") and newcomer Piotr Jagiello as Tomo and Marek, both around 16, who end up in the same scruffy corner of north London for wildly divergent reasons. Scrappy, diminutive Tomo (Turgoose) has fled his native north-Midlands and a deeply problematic home life, which he's reluctant to discuss; lanky photography nut Marek (Jagiello) has arrived with his hard-drinking father, who has found accommodation in Somers Town while working on the Eurostar rail link at nearby King's Cross. After initial friction, the pair rapidly become best pals and rivals for the affections of French waitress Maria (Elisa Lasowski).
Shot on monochrome HD, "Somers" doesn't appear much at first glance. The situations depicted are decidedly undramatic, chronicling the kinds of things youngsters get up to in the summer when they have time on their hands and limited cash. But we soon realize that though the script relies on vivid humor, it manages to do so while unobtrusively reminding us of these eminently believable characters' difficult and perhaps even tragic circumstances and backstories.
Meadows and cinematographer Natasha Braier present their story with a gritty, unfussy lyricism that finds unexpected glimpses of beauty in overlooked corners of London. Although black-and-white for most of its running time, there's an unexpected, colorful coda that ends proceedings on a truly joyous note, by which point you might find that this deceptively slight little picture has, on the sly, built quite an emotional wallop.