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Twenty-Four Seven

Review by Eddie Cockrell
Posted 1 May 1998

  Directed by Shane Meadows

Starring Bob Hoskins, Danny Nussbaum,
Darren Campbell, Jimmy Hynd, Bruce Jones,
Mat Hand, Sun Hand, Sarah Thom, Sammy Pasha,
Gina Aris, James Corden, Frank Harper,
Anthony Clarke, Justin Brady, Ladene Hall,
James Hooton, Jo Bell, and Pamela Cundell

Screenplay by Shane Meadows, Paul Fraser

Among the most distinctive directorial debuts of the last year to 18 months on the international film festival circuit, Shane Meadows' TwentyFourSeven (also called 247 in the eye-catching opening credits; the phrase refers to full-time dedication to an endeavor) has a cocky, in-your-face exuberance that is nicely balanced by an almost sweet naivete. Vaguely autobiographical and tooled specifically for Bob Hoskins – who gives a career-defining performance – the film is both inspirational and critical, hitching social concerns to a fresh visual take on the boxing movie and the lovable underdogs who inhabit that milieu.

In the Midlands region of England – presumably Nottingham or thereabouts, where Meadows grew up – community activist Alan Darcy (Hoskins) decides to revive a moribund boxing club to give the local lads an opportunity to focus their energies on something productive. Equally at home in the ring or waltzing with his Aunt Iris (Pamela Cundell), Darcy is a sensitive, mercurial sort whose sensitive diary entries belie his gruff exterior. As he commits himself to the forging of his some dozen charges and the inevitable triumphs and tragedies of that process, the film addresses themes of social inequity, provides a fresh spin on the genre and gives the actor ample opportunity to show off the bearish everyman spunk that gives him his appeal.

Darcy calls the place the 101 Spot (one on one emphasizing the individual's reliance on self), and the band of young fighters the 101 Warriors. In fact, the group of lads comes with their share of baggage. One is an addict, another has a weight problem, yet a third has a tense home environment, and all of them lack the discipline necessary for the sport. Yet by the film's tragic end, solid progress has been made.

The film is set to bloozy themes by Boo Hewerdine and Neill MacColl (they were in the 1980s band The Bible), peppered with songs from Van Morrison, Sun House, Tim Buckley, Strauss, The Charlatans, Jan Garbarek and Paul Weller that heighten the veracity of the working-class setting (which Hoskins has quipped "makes Detroit look like Never-Never Land).

A product of this environment himself, Meadows first gained attention a few years ago when he began writing, directing and producing short films on a shoestring budget with borrowed equipment. Using friends and family for cast and crew, he made a documentary for Britain's Channel Four called King of the Gypsies, followed that with the lowlife comedy Where's the Money Ronnie! (featured at the 1997 New York Film Festival) and completed his apprenticeship with the one hour featurette Smalltime. To date TwentyFourSeven, which was produced for around $2 million by the established team of Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell (Absolute Beginners, The Crying Game, Backbeat, the upcoming Welcome to Woop Woop) has won Hoskins the Best Actor prize at the European Film Awards, the jury prize for Best Screenplay at the Thessaloniki Film Festival and the FIPRESCI international film critics' award at the Venice Film Festival, as well as being selected for the opening night gala presentation at the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema (which figures, given the film's subject).

Technically, the film harks back to the Angry Young Man (and Woman) school of British filmmaking, influential films of the 1960s that combined class-conscious social realism with a distinguished documentary tradition (key titles include the touchstones Room at the Top and Look Back in Anger, as well as The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, A Taste of Honey, This Sporting Life, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The L-Shaped Room and Sons and Lovers). All of those films are in black and white, and Ashley Rowe's lovely photography of TwentyFourSeven continues that tradition: "British films," Meadows told Sight and Sound earlier this year, "have earned a reputation in certain quarters for looking like they're made for television. I think people associate black and white with cinema, and I wanted the film to have a dignity. There are two types of black and white: there's the gritty 'we had to make it on 16mm black and white because it was cheaper,' and there's the black and white which is more expensive, shot on 35mm through a bleach by-pass process. This type is quite beautiful, and it's what I was going for." Typical: in his enthusiasm for the aesthetic qualities of his work, Meadows bypasses any mention of historical context. Whether he's unaware of the lineage or dismissive of it is almost immaterial in the face of such energy. Only time will tell if his skills are tempered by respect.

"If you've never had anything to believe in you'll always be poor," is another line from Darcy's journal. Perhaps more than any other, this line does double duty as the emotional barometer of TwentyFourSeven and a strong hint that with passion as currency, young Meadows has, at an early age, acquired substantial wealth.


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