THE SURPRISING FIRM.
To American readers, you may not be aware of the work of Director Nick Love, his work, being of a very distinctive class of Britishness. Namely cockney football hooligans, south east london wide boys and the world of the 80’s casual. So it’s no surprise that Love decided to take on and re-make what for many is the definitive statement on the rise of the football hooligan in 1980’s Britain. Alan Clarke’s The Firm.
With the exception of Outlaw (Which is a charmless, overly nihilistic view of modern British society) and The Football Factory (again, pretty downbeat) I like Nick Love films. His work is authentic and touches on the real truths of suburban/city life for thousands of young men, from the 80’s to now. These truths are bought to life vividly and touchingly in his update of the Firm and it’s easily his best work in ages. Originally a BBC TV teleplay written by Clarke (see the Ray Winstone Borstal classic Scum) and starring Gary Oldman, the film has become the key reference point of 80’s (and Thatcher’s) Britain. ‘Bex’ is a moderately successful Estate Agent, riding the crest of 80’s boom times, he’s articulate, a charmer and also the head of the ICF – West Ham’s feared Hooligan firm. Bex is the central focus of the film, his psychosis, anger and blind stupidity are bought to life by a performance from Oldman that is hard to top. So it’s a wise move from Love to change the emphasis of the film in his version. Now the primary focus is the relationship between Bex and the young kid Dom, who is fascinated, excited and eventually disgusted by the violence and pointlessness of Bex, the firm itself and their meaningless quest for violence. By changing the emphasis, it becomes a lighter and a funnier film. The dialogue is sparky, fast paced, littered with swearing but above all authentic of it’s place, it’s language that i recognise in myself but also a real London not always shown in mainstream film. This is not the language of world of mockney Guy Ritchie, it’s typical South East London, brash sarcastic, harsh one minute and loving the next. Gone are the overt nods to Oldman’s upward mobility, now with Dom as the focus we see the estates of the early 80’s (the last ‘hurrah’ onscreen of the god awful Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke) it makes a fitting backdrop to why Dom looks up to Bex. He’s got the car, the clothes (spot on casual references once again from Love. See The Business for more cracking clothes.) and the mouth. But more importantly has escaped, has left his roots for something better and more exciting, or so it seems.
Love does that sense of belonging well, you could argue with some persuasion that The Firm, The Business, and The Football Factory are carbon copys of each other. But Love has an authenticity of experience that makes all these films not neccessarily for everyone, but alot more true to their roots than many other films that deal with London, with their white-washed worlds and picture postcard falseness. (yep I’m talking to you Notting Hill)
It really is a intriguing film, and I would urge anyone to leave their prejudices at the door. You might just be surprised.
And the trailer…