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Edinburgh International Film Festival
Seldom 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 their high-speed London-to-Paris connection. Hats off to the organization for allowing director Shane Meadows and writer Paul Fraser to organically develop this seed into a proper movie, one which confirms Meadows as among the most accomplished — and now, after a couple of early-career hiccups, consistent — British film-makers under 40. While unlikely to repeat the commercial success of Meadows’ last effort, 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 has fled his native north-Midlands and a deeply problematic home life, which he’s reluctant to discuss; lanky photography-nut Marek has arrived with his hard-drinking father, who’s found accommodation in Somers Town while he 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 Town” 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 while the script relies on vivid humor, it manages to do so while unobtrusively reminding us of these eminently believable characters’ difficult 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. Though black-and-white for most of its running time, there’s an unexpected, colorful coda which ends proceedings on a truly joyous note by which point you may find this deceptively slight little picture has, on the sly, built quite an emotional wallop.
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