This is a very long post which I’ve decided to break up into two parts, publishing them one right after the other. So, if you’re in rush to read my take on the film, here’s Part 2
As usual with my reviews or takes, to paraphrase appellate judges, these thoughts assume familiarity with the history and other information.
Part 1: Urban and the Fandom
It’s been 4 years since I read Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew by Bernard Hare, and since I didn’t take the book to Mexico with me when I left New York, I don’t recall every detail and I can’t access them. Nevertheless, between on line content and my memory, I’ve got enough, to make some comparisons between the book and the movie. Besides, based on statements by Candida Brady and Bernard Hare in the case of Urban, the film, the goal was not to reproduce the book on film, but rather, to draw awareness to a critical social problem – how almost 30 years ago, the social services system in the UK failed children living on the edge, in poverty, without parental supervision, with little or no hope of a productive future – or any future and how, with the more support, these kids could be turned around.
Bernard Hare’s intersession into the life of Lee Kirton, ( and some of his crew) as a father figure, an engaged parent, illustrated that with the right support, and with love, there could be hope. This story is more compelling when we ask the question, was Bernard Hare the right support? One might not think so, considering his own drug dependency and his methods, including permitting some of these kids to continue in immoral and age inappropriate behavior with the thinking that some supervision and safety is better than none. Yet, a big part of this story, the best part, is that this flawed man who saved a handful of children, was himself saved by these very children. Bernard Hare achieved what Greta Grimshaw never would or could. He pulled himself out of the mire of heroin, crack and alcohol, cleaned himself up, worked within the system to get some results. He loved a boy and the boy loved him back and there was hope.
This was the story I think Candida Brady and Bernard Hare wanted to tell in the film. But one purpose of the movie was not just to relate the state of affairs over almost 30 years ago, but to humanize the problem and publicize that a lot of these problems still exist. While there may not be any more shed crews, children in poverty still need a lot more support from the system if they are to survive and have rich lives.
Still, to make a palatable film that people want to see, the filmmaker had to make choices, what to leave in, what to leave out. In the Q & A after the showing in Leeds, Candida Brady said that ” what works in a book doesn’t work in a film – you have make a broader point -keep the values.” These choices are exemplified by some colloquy between Candida Brady and a fan in the Q & A after the Urban and the Shed Crew screening in Leeds. After viewing the film, the fan questioned the tone of the film ( lighter) compared to the tone of the book, that there was a more positive impression at the end ( Urban goes to school for the first day – not to jail). and Candida Brady’s response was that she wanted to end on a note of hope. And so, she did.
I personally didn’t have a positive reaction to the book – or rather, I didn’t have a positive reaction to Bernard Hare’s story. I was as conflicted as Hare himself over his decisions to allow underage children – some very young, to use alcohol and drugs, engage in sex under his roof, thrust himself as an adult in a crew of children and almost become one of them. Having some experience in the field of child welfare, I was and am more sympathetic to some of the social workers and the system as a whole – although I concede that, though many of the issues were the same, mostly caused by poverty, my jurisdiction put much more money and resources into the problem than the UK or Leeds did, and still the problems existed. Lost futures. Lost lives.
Some of what I took away from the book ( and it’s true in the movie as well) is that the root of the children’s problems is that their parents failed them and the Hare’s success such as it was, was founded on children having a present parental figure. Yes, their parents failed them because they themselves resorted to drugs, alcohol and crime to escape the depression of poverty and hopelessness, but what the book highlighted to me, was not the failure of the child welfare system, so much as the failure of the overall welfare system to concentrate on the parents.
But none of that mattered to me as I learned more about the role Richard Armitage would be playing as Chop. And I learned this stuff by way of the Richard Armitage fandom and some fan forensics.
The announcement came in March 2014. There was no @RCArmitage on Twitter until that August, so fan forensics and the ability to suss out new projects was more limited. According to Richard Armitage Net, the announcement came from a reliable, anonymous source. ( I don’t recall that).
We were nowhere in terms of New Projects. The audiobook Hamlet:The Novel had been announced and we were waiting for Into the Storm’s release, with varying degrees of worry. ( The kids were the stars, it was a disaster film, a tornado, no less, the tornado would be the star, the CGI would be the star, it was not a genre some of us liked, it could be a disaster on its own)
In our fandom consciousness, there was no Sleepwalker, Alice Through the Looking Glass, or Brain on Fire. There was no Hannibal. His best Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies was a year away. There was no Crucible or Pilgrimage or Berlin Station. There was no Love, Love, Love. We had no idea what would be next – how long it would be. So an announcement of a new project exploded the fandom.
Many fans rushed to buy the book by Bernard Hare, Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew, but it wasn’t that easy. Not available on Kindle – Amazon UK the only source -limited availability. Some shared their thoughts.We tried to learn what we could about the filmmaker, Candida Brady and Blenheim Films. We checked out Bernard Hare’s accent here and the short film about his experiences here. I wondered what his character might look like here . And then, once we saw – OMG.
I can hardly describe how much I anticipated seeing Richard Armitage in this role. I was eager to see how he’d handle this role, apparently so so different from those that came before and, possibly on the big screen. How would he play such a tortured soul? What would it be like to watch him drunk and drugged out? Would there be some sex scenes between him and Anna Friel (Greta)? How would he play off a such a young and adorable child actor? What about the lighter parts – some of the zany adventures Urban and Chop shared? I’d seen nothing of that in Armitage’s work to date. I’d hardly seen him laugh on screen or have a good time.
Four years and 9 projects later, even after learning more about the film from fan reviews in November 2015, and countering in all the different roles he’d played since filming Urban – my anticipation and what a few days ago became an urgency to access this film, had not dissipated.