Continued from here Again, these thoughts assume familiarity with the prior history, including the book Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew, by Bernard Hare. Film adaptation written by Candida Brady, Bernard Hare and Tiffany Sharp. Directed by Candida Brady. Here’s the IMDB page.
Perry’s Thoughts on Urban and the Shed Crew
What struck me first about UATSC movie, was that it opens from Urban’s point of view, as Fraser Kelly voices over the opening scenes. This worked for me even though it’s a strange way to tell a memoir – from some other character’s point of view.
As Urban walks through the streets of Leeds in his PJ’s and bathrobe, ( apparently having escaped his care situation) s he voices over what life is like for him and his mates in Leeds, stressing that there are no fathers in this world of drugs, and crime and unattended kids. He’s critical of social workers, cops, the men around – except for one bloke, and that’s Chop who was alright. He finds his mother shit faced on her sofa in a flat that’s a wreck, filled with food, empty bottles and in disarray – with nothing more than a word from his Mom to go out and get him so vodka – which he steals for her after grabbing some left over food that’s lying around.
Thus, the film starts at a time before the book does. The decision was made to spend more time on the original relationship between Greta and Chop, and also Urban and the family. In the book, Hare refers briefly to his previous relationship with Greta, but it’s not stressed, and the opening of the book appears to be how Chop and Urban meet – when Chop saves Urban from his jump ( suicidal?) into a canal. (Even though Hare mentions his previous stint with Greta.)
But here, the film cuts to the scene where Chop meets Greta for the first time and right off the bat, Greta asks Chop to help her get her 6 children back, who are all in care – or supposed to be. It’s easy to see what the attraction is for the two – she’s hot, he’s hot and they can wallow in drugs and drink on the money he makes from being a man with a van. What’s not easy to see, is how Greta will get her kids back, considering her condition.
At one point, Urban, who has now met Chop, warns him to never trust his mother because “she’ll destroy your life.” This is good advice. He knows this, because she’s ruined his life so far.
If I was expecting some sexiness between Greta and Chop – there wasn’t much. It was hard for me to find chemistry between Greta and Chop because Greta, though quite beautiful and sassy, is pretty depraved and unreliable. There’s nothing lovable about her. She’s a liar, a thief, heavily addicted, has terrible judgment. She’s a wreck. This is borne out several times before the break up. But more to the point, the director chose not to play up a sexual relationship – not to show it, when she easily could have. Brava to Candida Brady for not finding it necessary to take off Richard Armitage’s shirt. I didn’t even miss it. There are so many stunning shots of him and his biceps – it was the right choice, because in truth, the Chop/Greta relationship is incidental to the relationship between Chop and Urban.
There are a great many “time passes” scenes in this film, and it’s not easy to tell how much time has passed between scenes, or vignettes/escapades.
By some means, Chop orchestrates a meeting among Greta, Urban and the social workers. But, they need a few drinks before they can handle it.
The senior social worker reviews the files, including the notation that a home visit showed the children eating with their fingers and fighting over food. Greta is hostile, sarcastic and makes jokes. Chop sits in the background somewhat disapprovingly, and Urban argues that he wants to go home.
And apparently he does – his home now being in Chop’s place with Greta. This is barely explained. It’s not explained to me how Greta lost her flat – though there could be numerous reasons. Then there are “time passes”cutaways to scenes where Chop meets Urban and they more or less become a family. They live together, with Chop developing a relationship with Urban, and later the family, giving work to Frank and his friend, Skeeter.
While working on some delivery jobs, Chop tries to offer advice to the kids about education and life lessons, which aren’t really taken in, though they’re having fun, following directions and earning legitimate money
So, what the film shows before the actual events of the book ( we see some of it in the book at a later date) is the hard living, drug and alcohol based lifestyle of Chop and Greta, who share drugs and liquor with the kids, but also, the developing, close and positive relationship between Chop and Urban.
It was startling, really, to watch this – especially really young children swigging vodka out of the bottle. The film keeps the episode where Urban and Chop go to Scotland ( camping illegal on Balmoral?) placing it within the time when Chop is still with Greta. For quite some time – there’s no sign of a shed crew or shed. This particular adventure is charming, and cements the bond, for the characters and the audience, as the man and boy camp out, talk physics and fishing and the two gaze up at the Northern Lights, finally snuggling into their sleeping bags, separately – Urban slightly jiggles himself towards Chop, closer, and it’s beautiful.
Which makes it all the more heartbreaking when they return to find Greta screwing another bloke in Chop’s flat (remember – never trust my Mum). Greta looks so bombed out that at first I thought this was threesome – I didn’t recognize her. Chop gets violent, takes a knife to her and throws her out – and Urban, too. He throws the knife into the elevator after them. I mention this only as an aside because, Richard Armitage can’t throw. There are scenes in The Hobbit (flaming pine cone) (Berlin Station) and a few other random scenes. Here’s hoping he gets a role as a baseball player. He’ll learn.
Armitage plays the end of this scene so well – he’s angry, but devastated, and one can’t help feeling that it’s the loss of Urban that stings more than the loss of Greta.
It’s from this point, that the film picks up where the book started, more or less.
As I said earlier, I don’t recall all the details of the book that well, but I think the decision either to move the timing of events or just start at an earlier point enhanced the pathos and offered a more dramatic understanding of the loss both Chop and Urban suffered earlier. Whether it happened this way or not, this version explains how and why both Chop and Urban sunk even lower, and perhaps moved into harder drugs, because of their loss.
It also explains what seems like an instant relationship in the book, when they reunite and Chop begins to also take responsibility for the Shed Crew.
Without much attention paid to how much time passes, Chop and Greta come together again when Chop learns that Urban has been missing. Urban has sunk so low, that he’s found himself and Tyson, his dog, hanging around a culvert leading into canal. Urban is sniffing glue and getting high. Chop finds him, and rescues him when Urban jumps into the canal.
These scenes, the cinematography and design – which I think are actually in Leeds today, were engaging – the use of the circle, the graffiti, the long and close shots, all mirrored Urban’s psychedelic, stoned state.
The two reunite, soaking wet and somehow, without much explanation, they become a pair again. There’s a bit where they’re just out of the water, lying next to one another on the grass, where Chop clutches Urban to him – I got you now, I’m not letting go – that’s what was transmitted in one hug – that’s Richard Armitage.
They find their way to Greta’s new place, and Chop meets the crew for the first time. At this point, the film more or less tracks the book as Chop gets to know the crew.
He witnesses and participates in a joy ride with Sparky, in a stolen car, after which Sparky torches the car. Then Urban and Chop run to the shed when they are warned the cops are coming. The cops find no one but Chop sitting quietly at the shed with Tyson, when they hear a loud sound and a crazy car chase ensues to lure away the cops – which works, ( the ruse works – the car chase scene was too comical).
The group sits around a fire and Chop tells them his version of the King Arthur story ( no tattoo scene in the film) and he’s admitted into the crew. Armitage’s narration of the story, which tells part of the early history of Leeds is quite engaging – in his own Chop voice, and would make a good stand alone listen. Again, watching these young kids do drugs and drink under an adult’s protection is off-putting. The idea that an adult would let loose a machete in the presence of stoned kids is pretty disturbing, and sure enough, one of the kids gets cut badly.
In a few more “time passes” moments, the Crew gets to visit Chop’s house, with rules, and Urban begins living there. The director decided to spend much less time on the individual members of the crew than we know about in the book.
Unlike in the book, there are few if any relationships to learn about among the crew members. There are only hints of the sexual abuse and other problems the kids face at home as well as Urban’s disclosure that two of the boys are having sex with Amber. I suppose it was necessary in order to make the film to omit some of this stuff. Candida Brady conceded that she made the decision to leave out a lot of the much darker stuff that affected these kids lives, but in some way, the crew became a little like the dwarves in The Hobbit. It was difficult to really differentiate most of them and the lack of establishing interpersonal relationships that existed in the book made their plights less compelling to me.
After a passage of time, again, Urban and Chop set out on a run with the truck, but the bed comes off with all the furnishings. This was supposed to be a light-hearted comedic break, but it didn’t work for me. They return to Chop’s flat with only the cab, and find that the they’ve been locked out – there’s some No Entry paper on the door, so the two sleep in the Shed. In a poignant scene, although they start off in a double decker, Chop awakes to find Urban in his bed. There’s nothing dodgy here – the scene just builds on their bond.
Time passes and Greta is on the skids alone in her flat. She’s clearly having withdrawal as she can’t seem to find anything to take or drink, and she has no money. Because no dogs are allowed in Chops’s flat, Greta has Tyson the dog. In frustration, she grabs his leash and walks out with him.
At a block party where Chop has made use of a bouncy castle he has to deliver in the morning, neighbors and kids of all ages seem to be having fun, until Chop sees his truck take off. Frank tells Chop that Urban has gone off like crazy over three words ” Mum sold Tyson.”
I haven’t mentioned Tyson much, and I was unable to capture the screen caps I wanted, but the dog was a pretty good actor. There were four or five times where the camera focused on his expression when something notable was happening, and the dog’s face seemed to mirror the WTF is going on, or OMG emotions that I was. Also, he seemed as much Chop’s dog as Urban’s, so Chop, and here Armitage does some fine reactive acting in just a few glimpses, seems distraught as well. Chop sees his van being driven into cars, and crashed. Urban is driving, a fight with other neighbors ensues and the cops come. It’s a real melee and Chop gets the worst of it. Upon release from jail, he goes home.
Unfortunately for me, the loss of Tyson, which gutted me when I read the book, didn’t have the same impact for me. ( It should be noted that Urban just stole Tyson to begin with)
When Urban comes to his door, Chop slams it in his face. He’s had enough, or so it seems. Urban despondently slides down to the floor, but Chop relents and opens up. He learns that Greta s gone, the Shed has been demolished. Chop goes under, using harder drugs, and Greta is again on the skids.
In a powerful scene, she’s shown in withdrawal, all alone, with some fine acting by Anna Friel, depicting a woman who loathes herself. My recollection is that in the book, Greta just disappears.
Time passes and a social worker friend, Madge (Kathryn Drysdale) comes to find Chop who has hit rock bottom. The look of Richard Armitage in this scene is startling, close to ugly. Madge tells Chop that Urban will have no place to go when he’s release from his safe house, he only want to come to Chop, and he’s in worse shape because – we learn – his mother died.
Chop is in no condition to deal with this – says he can’t, and breaks up entirely. But Madge convinces him. The total surrender of Chop to allow himself to be comforted by a friend, his grief and his distress – it’s a great scene and some Armitage emotion to rival some of the scenes in The Crucible.
Chop apparently pulls himself together in order to be fit for raising Urban. He finds the kids in some flat, stoned out, maybe even on crack. By now, Amber, who was pregnant, seems to go into labor. At the hospital it turns out that her fetus is crack addicted.
Time passes and Chop has the kids in his flat for tea.
Urban tells him to write something that really means something ( his book, I guess), and in the final scene, a cleaned up Chop and a spotless Urban in uniform, get Urban to his first day of school.
My main interest in this film is Richard Armitage. He didn’t disappoint. The film gave me what I was pining for 4 years ago in terms of watching something new from him, even though I have since seen 9 different performances ( more than that if one counts episodes in TV shows). I think he does the lighter, comedic stuff well enough. I know from seeing Love, Love, Love that he can have good comedic timing, but Urban was a different sort of lightness. I still prefer the darker side of Richard Armitage. For me, the outstanding scenes were when he was at his lowest point – locking out Urban, throwing out Greta, his scene with Madge. his social worker friend, his drugged up chess game.
Fraser Kelly has a mesmerizing, expressive face. His ability as a child actor to show range shows some natural talent. I think the quiet conversations and reactions, the let downs, are more difficult and special than the emotional outbursts. His chemistry with Armitage was so strong that the scenes with just the two of them were the among the best in the film.
Anna Friel’s performance seemed real to me – she was pitiful, but not pitiable. I detested Greta – I don’t know if that was the point, but I felt that way about the book version Greta, and I think the film version was even grittier.
A challenge for the writers and directors was to get us inside Chop’s head some other way than with a written narrative. I can only think of one instance, where this challenge was met – when he muttered, after a stoned out birthday party for Urban, that next time he would have an age appropriate party. Otherwise, except for a few life lessons and tips to some of the kids, there was no way to explain the actual conflicts the real Chop had in trying to be a savior who also tolerated drug use, crime and underaged sex. The only rules film Chop set down was don’t hurt each other and don’t disturb the neighbors.
Moreover, while the decision to lighten up the tone might have been necessary to get the film made and seen, there was very little content about how the system may have failed these children. We see the result of some failure, but no cause and effect. It’s really left to blame the parents – those absent and present.
If one hadn’t read the book, or followed up on some of the extra material about this true story, the film, standing alone, tells, in a series of linear but disconnected scenes – escapades mixed with angst – a bittersweet story that offers an uplifting ending. It tells, with some fine acting, staccato dialogue, thoughtful camera work and location choices , about the bond between a man and a boy in terrible circumstances, who appear to save each other.
Maybe that’s enough to keep the conversation going.
6 thoughts on “Perry’s Take on Urban and the Shed Crew: Part 2”
Totally agree about the drugged chess game scene (and the subsequent one) — most powerful parts of his performance for me — and also that he didn’t need to take his shirt off and they didn’t need to have sex (I don’t think that was the basis of their attraction in the book, either), as well as about the strength of the Armitage – Kelly scenes.
Since I’ve had my say elsewhere about the problems with the refusal of the script to take a real position except “everybody should love each other” elsewhere, I won’t repeat myself here. 🙂
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OK — for the sake of argument let’s say that this was really supposed to be not a comment on social circumstances, an edgy story about drug abuse and violence, or a dark comedy about plucky poor people in Leeds, but rather an “Urban and Chop save each other” story set in the ruins of Leeds’ drug-addicted working class. That is probably my least favorite read of the book mostly because I don’t entirely see Chop as a redeemed figure at the end of the book. (As you say, he / Hare made some choices that even people who don’t share the prejudices of social workers probably can’t and won’t condone. It’s too bad in a way that Morrighan’s Muse disappeared her entire Armitage period because she was incredibly critical of the book on just this basis. If she were seeing this movie now she might be having severe whiplash.)
To me, if it were that film, I’d have needed a more consistent narrative around Chop / Urban that showed the development of trust, and probably more editing out of the perspective of the other kids (sorry!). I think the film is faithful to the book in that it shows a situation where Chop gets together with Greta and she is a horrible influence on him, and Urban is alternatively the beneficiary or the collateral victim of the vicissitudes of their relationship. I don’t remember the book having that coherent of a trajectory. Then, suddenly, when Urban has nowhere to go anymore that he will stay, Chop decides to straighten up and fly right. (I found *most* unconvincing that it was concern / love for Urban that caused him to kick his addiction, but living with an alcoholic influences my perception of that element of the story. To me, Greta’s story is more realistic than Chop’s in that regard.) We’d also need to see how Urban changed Chop beyond getting him to clean his apartment.
In comparison, the film crams into a small space something that spread out more fully in the book, which is Chop’s coherent efforts to try to help the Shed Crew. (I found that the least interesting aspect of the book and the film — although I understand that in the book it was concretely part of Hare’s project to say “social work is not giving these kids what it needs, it needs to focus less on behavior and more on values and politics”). Chop was trying in the book, I thought, to offer them a different kind of redemption, whereas the film puts that all into very conventional terms.
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I don;t think the book intended to be a Chop and Urban save each other story ( I mean, maybe that was a by-product, but it didn’t read that way). Maybe the film didn’t either – but that’s how it read to me. I think the book – which admittedly, I have a hard time remembering, focused on Urban, but spent a lot of time on the Crew and their relationships with each other, histories, sexual experiences, the notion of getting their own housing by having a baby, more interactions with social workers and also much more crime than was in the film- I can’t recall them all but definitely know that Chop semi adopted or influenced most of the Crew and some of them slept there – not just popping over for tea. But I also know he went stealing with them at least once.
I think the film was sort of Urban lite.
The book starts off with Chop saving Urban and it goes from there – with a little back story only, as I recall – and I think Chop and Greta got it on once or twice after the saving scene but nothing much happens. So, I don’t know if the true story/chronology was how Bernard Hare wrote it, or how Candida et al changed it. I also think the scene switches, escapades or vignettes in the movie made it more difficult to believe the Urban/Chop bond – you had to read in a lot because “time passes.”
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My memory in the book is that he was uncomfortable having the girls sleep in his apartment because of fears he’d be either condoning underage sex OR making himself vulnerable to molestation charges. I don’t remember how that worked out (like, was it that if Greta stayed over he didn’t have issues with the girls doing it?). But yeah, the boys all slept there, at least for a time.
re: went stealing with them: and for me, crucially, did drugs with them beyond marijuana and alcohol.
Good point about time passing — it’s not entirely clear how long this all takes; the only concrete measure we have is Amber’s pregnancy. Thinking about it: I wonder why that is. The book also uses “scenes from Chop and Urban’s travels” as a synecdoche, but it’s clearer in the book that that is the case. Maybe part of the problem is that the “time passes” scenes are often shots of Lucifer Towers / the Leeds cityscape, first at night and then in the day? So it seems like it’s just a night and a day till the next episode?
I think he allowed sex with the girls in the apartment. ( Not him having sex) and yes, he was worried and aware of the perception. I seem to recall even Urban having a girlfriend.
Time passes was confusing and I agree – the pregnancy was the only clue in the whole film where you could pin point a few months passing, but we can assume that somewhere along the line, and not immediately, Chop taught him to read some. That takes time.
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