Perry’s Take on Urban and the Shed Crew: Part 2

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.

Social workers removing Greta’s children to put them into care.

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.

Screenshot of Meeting With Social Workers with Urban still in his PJ’s.

Perfectly cast, stodgy, proper English social worker played by Gabrielle Lloyd.

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.




Perry’s Take on Urban AT Shed Crew: Part 1

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 releasewith 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.

Continued here.








The NIFF Magazine on Urban, thanks to a fan

Thanks to Linda60 (@aka_Linda60) ( and notice the autographs)

Correction: #RichardArmitage Wins Best Actor Overall at NIFF

My mistake here

Thanks to Hariclea for the correction. This was a jury award ( not a fan or viewer award) and it’s terrific!! Who knows what other awards might come when this film gets a wider release, as it will very soon.

#RichardArmitage is People’s Choice for Best Actor at NIFF

@RCArmitage Offers Congrats for Urban’s Success