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Film Review: Dead Man’s Shoes Live

Warp Films is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Its output over that period has been extraordinary: Four Lions, Tyrannosaur, Kill List, Submarine, Berberian Sound Studio… But it’s the creative drive of Shane Meadows which has delivered the company’s landmark productions: This Is England and Dead Man’s Shoes. The former might be better known, and spawned a spin-off television series, but Dead Man’s Shoes is the cult classic which will prevail.

Paddy Considine (Richard)
Gary Stretch (Sonny)
Toby Kebbell (Anthony)
Stuart Wolfenden (Herbie)

Dead Good Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Dead Man’s Shoes Certificate (UK): 18

Good Friday’s presentation of Dead Man’s Shoes at the Queen Elizabeth Hall featured two screenings of the film with a live score provided by members of Clayhill (who originally soundtracked the film along with Aphex Twin), UNKLE and Goldfrapp. Public Image Ltd’s Jah Wobble wasn’t involved this time around, as he had been at the premiere last November in Sheffield (he tweeted last week: ‘Don’t get me wrong the dead mans shoes rescore will be ok. It’s just that it will be like Tottenham without Bale, Dembele and Lloris’), but the live-scoring of the second performance I saw was a triumph, a deft accompaniment to a film which otherwise features a superb soundtrack and song selection from a roster of Warp artists.

Gary Clarke’s raw, impassioned vocals beautifully complemented and off-set the film’s heady blend of rural, dreamlike intensity and brutal sink estate violence. Like John Boorman’s Point Blank, which has just been re-released and was showing at the BFI next door, it has a visceral danger about it that is hard to pin down. Essentially a revenge drama in which (co-writer and star) Paddy Considine’s soldier Richard descends on his hometown of Matlock in the Peak District to dispense justice on the tormentors of his brother Anthony (a remarkable and quietly devastating performance by Toby Kebbell), it’s also a portrait of a type of desultory underclass and the horrifying lengths they’ll go to for entertainment.

It’s in the depiction of this ragtag bunch of losers that the film finds its lighter moments – their cruising around town wedged into a mini, having make-up unwittingly put on their faces while sleeping, even one accidentally shooting another and through their inept posturing Meadows elucidates a very British banality of evil.

But it’s in the grainy, black and white flashbacks of their abuse of Anthony that the film derives its creeping, horrifying halo effect. The live performance’s best moments came in the intense psychedelic squalls of feedback and cacophony as Richard spikes the gang’s teapot with a vicious blend of intoxicants, leaving them disabled and powerless just as his brother was, as he walks amongst them, wreaking havoc as they drool, saucer-eyed.

Our verdict:
Dead Man’s Shoes burns in the mind because of its starker moments – the terrifying presence of Considine in his gas mask, blending into the shadows – but speaks to a DIY film-making ethic (producer Mark Herbert spoke about hiring a minibus for the crew and changing locations on a moment’s notice) and an ineffable atmosphere of sickening dread and purest love (the opening Super-8mm footage of the infant Richard and Anthony) which means it has gained, not diminished, in power over the last decade. This is an excellent portrayal of post-Thatcherite urban decay: the decline of industry producing aimless young men, and the destruction they can cause.

Watch if you like… This is England

Reviewed by Dan Franklin.

Further Film Reviews: Hitchcock and Gangster Squad

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