Made in Wales

But 'Twin Town' isn't a film about male voice choirs or the death of the mining industry. And it's not a Welsh 'Trainspotting' either. Even if Danny Boyle was executive producer
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The Independent Culture
Swansea, Dylan Thomas's "beautiful, ugly town," used to be the archetype of industrial South Wales. Like most such places, it had its heart ripped out in the lean, mean 1970s and 1980s. It can't be said that Kevin Allen's debut feature Twin Town paints an especially flattering portrait of what remains. In the eyes of the film-maker, it is now "a pretty shitty city", inhabited by bent coppers, drug dealers, taxi drivers who tell sweet-natured old ladies to "fuck off", and bored, unemployed youngsters.

"This film is not a Welsh film," Allen, half-Welsh himself, protests when you charge him with doing a hatchet job on the land of his fathers. "It has an intrinsic Welshness because we set it in Swansea and we wanted to make it as authentic as possible. But the story is universal. The core of the story is revenge and that local, provincial corruption and skulduggery that you get all over Britain."

Allen's protagonists are a pair of beatific, mischievous twins with a knack for creating chaos. Instead of chasing rugby balls, the Lewis boys (Rhys Ifans and Llyr Evans) smoke dope and steal cars. Joy-riding is both their main recreation and a perfect metaphor for their approach to life. "They're not evil, but they're very, very naughty." In other words, they can be seen as Welsh cousins to the bored adolescents who ran amok in Stevenage in Paul Hills' Boston Kickout or the skaggies from downtown Leith who burned a swathe across Edinburgh in Danny Boyle's Trainspotting. The twins are holy innocents with an ingenuous, wide-eyed quality that stops you from taking against them, whatever outrages they commit in the course of their feud against the unctuous local businessman who double- crossed their old man.

Twin Town was first conceived as "a tight-arsed, over-worthy piece of issue-led docu-drama". Allen was inspired to write the film by his experiences making Rotten to the Core, an Open Space video documentary for the BBC about Glasgow's notorious ice-cream wars. He mutters darkly about the corruption of the Glasgow crime squad and his anger at how "two innocent men" have been left languishing in prison for years. But he decided to make it as a comedy instead because "I specialise in comic writing, there's a dearth of it about, and is easier to get a script commissioned when it's funny".

In leavening his original idea with humour, he seems to have strained out the polemics. Beyond the fact that disaffected adolescents steal cars, take drugs, and occasionally decapitate their neighbours' poodles, Twin Town's state-of-the-nation insights are minimal. The Liberal Democrat MP David Alton recently described it as "sordid and squalid, plunging new depths of depravity", while a psychiatrist who advises the Home Office is on record complaining about Twin Town's possible effect on impressionable, dog-hating teenagers. Both are missing the point. The film offers rambunctious, highly kinetic comedy - a sort of cross between Carry On and Roy Chubby Brown - which tears strips out of a few old Welsh stereotypes. It is rude and boisterous, but no more so than Viz: testosterone-driven adolescent satire isn't supposed to be subtle.

Allen has no truck with stock images of Wales as a country of choirs, miners, daffodils and leeks. "They're a puke-inducing disgrace - an insult to youth culture," he says. Not that this stops him from throwing in a few, playful cliches of his own. For instance, as if to confirm the scurrilous old rumours that the Welsh are keener on their farm animals than they ought to be, he wrote a cameo for his older actor-comedian brother Keith ... as a sheep shagger. (In the BBC Bristol documentary, Shoot Out in Swansea: the Making of 'Twin Town', an unusually chastened-looking Allen Snr admits that it's not much fun "being on the busy end of a sheep's mouth, wearing no clothes, and looking like a complete moron".) The bravura opening sequence, in which an omniscient camera swoops all over Swansea, showing the locals at their daily business, seems intended as a skit on Under Milk Wood. Instead of behaving quaintly for the camera's benefit, the characters captured in passing all make obscene gestures in the direction of the lens. It is as if they're refusing to be part of the chocolate box image of Wales Allen loathes so heartily. He is no fan of Dylan Thomas. "It's sad," he muses, "how Swansea really does hang its existence on one peg - on one fraudulent, professional Welsh drunk (albeit a great poet). Dylan Thomas sold the image of Wales right down the fucking river."

For all Allen's fighting talk of debunking old Welsh stereotypes, Twin Town doesn't offer much original in their stead. Instead, it peddles just the kind of images of cheeky chappie British youth culture that have been flogged to death selling Britpop.

The tyro director reacts a little testily to the suggestion that Twin Town is cashing in on the new laddishness - the loaded phenomenon. "I'm not of that culture. I don't read the magazine. Apart from liking football, it's got nothing to do with me." Nor is he especially keen on the inevitable comparisons with Trainspotting. "To be regarded as the Welsh Trainspotting or a second-division Danny Boyle is hurtful, but I can handle that. Apart from having energy and being set regionally and being cultish, it's a very different film to Trainspotting."

Allen insists that neither he nor his co-screenwriter Paul Durden had seen Boyle's film when they started work on Twin Town. But the Trainspotting tag is hard to shake off. After all, Danny Boyle and Andrew Macdonald executive-produced Twin Town. Both Allen and his producer Peter McAleese were aware of the dangers of the association. "We were desperate to deliver something that would not be an embarrassment and that would do justice to the faith that Danny and Andrew showed in us," McAleese explains. "It can't be overstated how important that was. It was a big leap of faith for Danny and Andrew to make - to hand something over to us that would have their names on it."

Like Trainspotting, Twin Town was shot on a tight budget (pounds 1.8m) at breakneck speed (5 weeks), without any major stars attached. And, like Trainspotting, it is being marketed by Polygram with a kind of brazen energy usually reserved for new Britpop albums. Strident red and black posters of the terrible twins with a manic glow in their eyes have begun to spring up in magazines and on railway station hoardings. Inevitably, the tie-in soundtrack album is being hyped heavily. This time, instead of Iggy Pop shrieking out "Lust for Life", the signature tunes are Petula Clark's "Downtown" and Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime". (Not that this foray into easy-listening should be construed as an attempt to woo the over- forties.) Twin Town has already been sold all over the world. "It's a multiplex film, but we haven't toned down any aspect to make it more friendly for foreign audiences."

Encouraged by a successful screening at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival, the distributors are sure that the film will appeal to US college audiences. But there will be no dubbing, subtitling or relooping for the benefit of American audiences, as happened with Trainspotting last year. Instead, Allen has shot a brief trailer to be shown before the feature in which the twins, locked up in a Marrakech jail, ask the young Americans to "wash out their ears". Allen, who gave over 70 interviews to European journalists after last month's Berlin Film Festival screening, was struck by the interest Twin Town provoked in the old Eastern bloc countries. "They wanted to talk about its subversive politics." Ironically, back home in Britain, Twin Town is liable to endure a far rougher ride. Like just about every other remotely controversial film slated for UK release, the film has become embroiled in a censorship row, with the usual, self- appointed guarantors of public decency queuing up to denounce it. Some critics have already begun to label it as an ersatz, second-rate Trainspotting. ("The most depressing thing about Twin Town is that it seems to mark the almost instant decay of a new and exciting cinematic language in British films," wrote Sight and Sound.)

It remains to be seen what the Welsh will think of so coruscating a view of their own backyard. Twin Town receives its British premiere in Swansea early next week. Despite stirrings of indignation in the local press, Allen doesn't envisage a hostile reception. "The local authorities were very supportive. They backed the film being made there to such an extent that it would be pretty daft to turn against it now"n

'Twin Town' opens Fri 11 April; 'Shoot Out: the Making of "Twin Town"' is on BBC2, Sat 19 April