Film: The ring of half-truth

The big picture: TwentyFourSeven


Shane Meadows (15)

Should boxing be banned? Tough one. Should films about boxing be banned? Now you're talking. There's something about the sport which brings out the worst in directors: they see that vast expanse of canvas and the battered leather gloves of a skid row dreamer and they come over all punch drunk, throwing metaphors around the way a Bethnal Green flyweight throws his first, faltering blows.

If the genre can be roughly divided into Fat City and The Set-Up in the red corner versus Rocky III and Somebody Up There Likes Me in the blue, then the new British feature is neither on the ropes nor especially likely to be a contender. It's shot in soft black and white and set among young male gangs who idle away their days in the Nottingham suburbs, scrapping, taking drugs and, perhaps most disturbing of all, wearing Kappa shell-suits. Into their lives shuffles Alan Darcy (Bob Hoskins), a hairy little man who decides without any apparent provocation that a boxing club is just what the young 'uns need to keep them out of trouble. "If you've never had anything to believe in," he reasons, "you'll always be poor."

When he dares the more volatile boys to knock five goals past him on the football field or else show up at his gym for coaching, their reaction isn't one you'd expect - they don't shout "Sod off, Grandad", or beat him senseless with blunt instruments. Darcy has been fortunate enough to come over all inspirational on the one poverty-stricken housing estate in Britain where violence is either absent or accidental. There's not a pathological thug among these lads. The worst thing they do is mispronounce "salmonella".

These younger characters are vaguely plausible without really seeming authentic. They are limited to one idiosyncracy per person. One boy is bullied by his dad. Another may be gay - he tickles the palm of his opponent during a game of "scissors, paper, stone". And Fag-Ash (Mat Hand) is a junkie whose potential for overdosing comes in handy when the film requires a quick fix of pathos.

But the air of triviality in their conversations is one thing that the film gets unequivocally right. As both a Midlander and an exponent of low-budget film-making, the 25-year-old director Shane Meadows clearly has the correct doses of life experience and cinematic knowledge, unlike many of his American counterparts. The dialogue which he and Paul Fraser have cooked up for their young cast prompts fond memories of the 1970 film Bronco Bullfrog, another youth-oriented, black-and-white British feature shot for less than the hairspray budget of most movies. Although the wide-boy entrepreneur Ronnie (Frank Harper) who finances Darcy's venture is an over-familiar Arthur Daley figure, there is a comic warmth generated by his combination of earthy Cockney and mechanical tabloidspeak. "When the wife left us," he tells Darcy, "I went deeper into me work, and now I wanna put my life back into some semblance of order." Later, he will comment that his son is "going off to bond with nature and all that bollocks".

The comedy in generally leans towards the quirky, but when the film is trying to make you laugh it's a lot easier to digest than when it's striving for an emotional response. The mixture of streetwise and sentimental creates a kind of romanticised realism, as in the scene showing a beleaguered wife listening as her drunken husband berates their son. The camera observes the woman's troubled face and then glides away to take in a depressing stretch of patterned wallpaper. A detail is more likely to be convincing if it isn't lingered upon - notice the dirty dinner plates in Fag-Ash's bedroom, the grooves where sauce has been mopped with a clump of bread etched into their grime.

Meadows doesn't actively romanticise his locations, though he is not immune to the temptations offered to the artist by the ring. There's a scene after the boxers have departed where the camera stays fixed on the heavy bags swinging as if disturbed by phantom fists, while another shot has a boy's face disappearing into the darkness of his tracksuit hood, like a monk seeking solace in his cowl. The film reaches its most indulgent point near the end, after the club has gone under and the fighters return to express their discontent, not through violence but with a single boxing glove soaked in lighter fluid and tossed on to the canvas. If this is a poetic episode, then its poetry is scrawled on the movie's surface like graffiti rather than woven into its fabric.

It's almost inconceivable that a director responsible for other moments of extraordinary grace and poignancy should consider a burning boxing glove or two men fighting in a rubbish skip to be suitable symbols for the demise of Darcy's dream. For most of , Meadows has managed to keep undue emotion at bay thanks to the important decision to start the film at the end, with Darcy as a down-and-out; the film is unravelled in flashback. The knowledge that Darcy will end up living in a derelict railway carriage goes some way towards undermining the story's potential for sweetness. The images, too, have a corresponding blend of earthy reality and lyrical beauty: Darcy placing his grubby paw on a glass counter where the handprint of the woman he adores is shimmering; a glorious, surreal scene in which the lads answer the call of nature during a forest trek, crouching beneath their white rain-capes so they look like futuristic garden gnomes glowing magically in the gloom.


1 Jackie Brown

2 Mother and Son

3 As Good As It Gets

4 Gattaca

5 The River

Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits