Seems hardly believable that this was just the first part of the evening. With no time to think, process or even really acknowledge we’d spent one hour listening to RA peel the layers of his career we hopped into a taxi across town and found ourselves an an equally welcoming venue, this time a modern art gallery and events center.
It felt almost surreal, we were surrounded by people who had just arrived and were eagerly waiting to see both Richard and the movie, by extremely friendly staff who were offering a trio of lovely little canapes and glasses of fizz. I felt welcome and very comfortable, it was celebratory but in a joyful, friendly way. Canapes of roasted glazed pork belly, salmon pate on a biscuit base and caramelised red onion mini tarts with a dollop of goats cheese mouse on top. Treats, but you know, normal treats 🙂 Not the kind where you wonder what that is and how on earth to pick it up and eat it. I really wished I was feeling better and could have some more. I felt bad to refuse the friendly staff after one little onion tartlet and a half glass of fizz. I hope I didn’t come off as snubbing the offerings which were lovely, but I was just too afraid to upset the delicate balance of my innards, especially since the nap had lost its effect and tiredness was creeping back on me. Afraid I wasn’t the most active conversation participant because in all honesty through the lack of sleep and caffeine (selfimposed by necessity) I concentrated my energies on just taking it all in.
I loved how people had dressed in their ‘good clothes’ for event, like you would for a special theatre outing or your know, celebrate Easter 🙂 No fancy silly evening gowns, just your best Sunday ones 🙂 I suddenly felt guilty about my woolly jumper and skimpy packing. By no means because of the people around me, but because yes, this was an event to celebrate and it deserved way more of my effort! I wished so baldy I’d blinged it up a bit to signal I was chuffed to be there, even happier the film got another chance (and what a chance this was, now knowing that the film won the people’s choice award and Richard won best actor!). Not for the first time that evening I wish I’d prepared…
I was tempted to roam but didn’t want to wonder too far since we didn’t know where exactly in the building the screening would take place and also didn’t know when/where Richard would arrive. The exhibition was very alluring though, a bright open space with plenty of varied exhibits by local artists. Wish there had been more time between the events for exploring, but understandably everyone huddled near the staircase which came from the front and the drinks tables had also been set out next to them. Suddenly there was a buzz and from everyone turning towards the center or the room where the staircase came up it was clear who had arrived 😉 In fact as both him and Fraser hit the top of the staircase they got stuck with people greeting them. We were looking on from the other side of the railing, with some lucky ones having enough presence of spirit to take photos 🙂 All that crossed my mind looking at his back and where his feet stood, 10 cm on the ledge of the staircase with his back to it was how terribly unsafe it was. Finally, to my relief he stepped away towards the tables and everyone moved towards the center of the room.
In the general hubbub I suddenly decided I wasn’t even going to try and get closer as it was nearly 8 and the screening would have to start soon. So instead I went looking for a staff member and asked where we would have to go and they explained that it would be all the way down to an attached part of the building. And I was suddenly very keen to secure a good place for the screening 😉
Just then people were invited to head over and half of our little group headed to the previously indicated lift and there we were among the first getting to the screening room. In fact I walked passed the merchandise table without even looking, which is why it was only Linda later who picked up on the Edge magazine! She mentioned something about interviews in them and kindly got another one and some people managed a few more but since it was cash only and the screening was already about to start no many people I think realised it was actually really interesting materials. I dropped the additional copy Linda bought just behind me on the table and never even opened it, leaving it for later (with relatively funny consequences).
The room was spacious but the set up was a bit unexpected; chairs in clear plastic had been arranged around neatly set big round tables covered with white table cloths. Clear this was probably often used for formal sit down dinner or the like. In fact Fraser and Richard funnily commented on it before the introduction mentioning that it made it look a bit like a BINGO hall 😉 We did have a good spot in a sort of 2nd row of tables , still pretty close to the screen and not many heads in front to obstruct the view.
The projection screen bas pretty wide and after a brief introduction and a promise of a QA after by Candida Brady, Fraser and Richard inviting us to watch the movie we were off into Urban’s world. The 3 sat at the side at some high chairs for a few minutes and then discretely left. The room was absolutely silent and everyone was engrossed, sound and picture were good and even though I had seen it before my attention was immediately captured.
I was trying to remember or rather detect if anything had been changed in the editing but by the end of it I am convinced any changes were really really minor, in fact nothing stuck out as missing. The titles have been changed but I like the new, more discreet and unassuming version. We’re introduced to the protagonist of the story right away and it feels very unassuming, as if we’ve just stumbled or rather walked in into their daily lives.
I will try not to spoil the story or the film for anyone so will just record some general impressions I had about the feel of it. Tiredness help in switching off any secondary thoughts I might have had about cuts and music and such, I just let the story come to me if you will.
I loved it, it clung to me immediately, even more than the first time and all throughout I kept thinking how much I would want to watch it again, revisit this and that scene, hear certain dialogue again. It’s a great film, a captivating even if very very sad story. You connect to the characters immediately and they hold your interest throughout. Candida Brady’s experience in documentaries really works in making the film feel natural, unforced. It sometimes may feel a bit episodic but that’s the whole point, we see moments in their lives which are sometimes turning points, sometimes stumble blocks. Like people’s lives it’s not a straight narrative like an action movie, it meanders as the characters find their life moving not always forwards or even backwards, but sideways or sometimes just in circles. It’s not a faced-paced bam-bam-bam thing, it evolves and emerges and becomes it with a well managed arc.
It’s neither romantic nor melodramatic and much of the tone is helped by Chop himself being often an observer rather than an active participant. He often lets the children be the story tellers and many times just listens. And when he does talk it is sometimes almost unexpected as it turns out he is a great storyteller himself. He becomes both the children’s and our center of attention, just as Urban is most often himself as well. Nobody feels secondary in the film.
I did wonder if language could be a barrier for the movie, as a lot of slang is used. But I don’t think so, it’s really often not about the exact words people say, especially the kids, it’s about the way they communicate, what they do, how they live. The film has no trouble communicating beyond the words.
The acting is excellent throughout, from dog to kids and adults 🙂 I think people will find a lot to love about Chop, from his quiet observing nature, to his story telling , humour and even his constant smoking. We get to see, hear and enjoy a lot of what we love about Armitage. But I am sure you’ll fall in love with Urban, his mum, the dog and even the van too. People, places, clothes, furniture, everything speaks of poverty but there is a lot to be smiled at and laughed with, a lot of beauty in it. I think the copious amounts of colour, among others in Chop’s and Urban’s clothing help set this stylistic tone. You’ll never think of this film as grey.
But obviously the most powerful thing about the movie is this relationship between Chop and Urban, the quiet, mutual understanding, the strong bond they form where adult/child roles are often reversed, only to emphasize how Urban has become wise beyond his years. Both man and child also have big moments of utter vulnerability.
The script is great, but so is the book and it’s good to see it translate so well to real dialogue. The tone for each character is clearly and consistently set, in fact it very much feels like real life. I feel even stronger than before that this is a story which must be told, must be seen. I feel about this like I did when I watched ‘Broken’ a few months back. Like these are the stories and realities we need to talk and see more of. I don’t know if that will be possible, but this is a film that for me 100% belongs on the BBC. My feeling throughout was : ‘this is the stuff we need to show more of’ , this is where the BBC needs to step in , showing the films which may not be making money or were made on big budgets, but which remind us about the people and lives in this country. It’s not and should not all be about the Crown and superhero movies, although we all need escapisms these days. But those who have the public’s ears and are financed by the public’s money and whose mission is not only to entertain but also to educate and inform have an obligation to speak up and share the stories that money won’t otherwise carry. When if not now is the time to tell these childrens’ stories? Unlike the brief news reports about increasing homelessness or children having to rely on school lunches for food, this little film is impossible to look away from.
It finished leaving a thick, emotion-filled silence, which I think is a very good sign of it’s impact on any viewing public. It gives you a lot of thinking material and I just felt a bit sad, a lot angry, some frustration, some hope , some pride in what everyone has achieved in the film. On a secondary level I also felt vindicated and reaffirmed in why I like to watch Richard Armitage on screen and stage. There is great reward for both mind and heart in watching material that you can connect with deeply told by somebody with his level of sensitivity and detail in acting. Honestly, every time I use the word acting with respect to this film it actually feels wrong. It’s just so real. And I will openly admit that this is the kind of combination of complex role, thoughtful material and screen time I have been starving for.
I was just an observer at the QA which followed since I just couldn’t really get my head out of the film enough to start digging behind the curtain. I’d also had a previous opportunity so it felt wrong to take any more time from others who knew maybe less about it and the people involved. And the questions and answers were very interesting anyway.
Fraser proved to be a very thoughtful and mature young man. In fact the way he interacted with all of us that evening, formally at the QA and personally mingling and talking to us one on one really impressed me. His parents have much to be proud of and he is very conscious of their support. I am sure the decision to play the role 4 years ago, when he was just 12 was not an easy one, probably a very brave one by his parents. And it was a lot to take in, as he himself admitted. Asked, he explained how he read the first 15 pages of the book and stopped, struck by the story and how much he learned during the filming about the lives of kids and adults in the area they were depicting. And then he finished reading it after the filming was done and was struck again.
Both Candida Brady and Richard let him answer most of the questions and he proved a most convincing and articulated advocate for the movie. He was fervent in the importance of doing more to support families and children in poverty and how any one person can make a difference and how we needed to talk much more about the subject.
A lady from the Leeds/Bradford area also wanted to share the fact that she really felt the film was truthful to circumstances and that she appreciated it being seen as years back she had read the book and it inspired her to work in social care.
Candida expressed her thanks for the support the movie has received so far and talked about how close the local community, the children whose lives are depicted and Bernie were involved with it. And also about how important it was to show the lives of people as truthfully as possible, not just as individual stories of poverty and loss but also in the community aspect of living in the area. She also stressed the fact that the stories of these kids often start before they are born, as some are born in prison to women who have been incarcerated for minor crimes, often driven by their partners to commit them.
All 3 spoke about the fact that money is not always the solution of all these problems and although it helps with building structures a lot more in terms of human input and care is needed to help where families are not there or can’t provide the care these children need. Richard also pointed out that they are telling a story but politicians need to find solutions and should definitely visit the areas affected as well.
At which point, since it was already past 10pm and everyone was deeply touched by the subject at hand and also by all their passionate support of the film a moment of silence fell upon us where Richard softly and very tentatively said: ‘is it bedtime?’ There was just that melancholy feeling about the room, but I am glad somebody brought up the courage to not end it just there and lifted the spirits a bit asking about fun moments during filming. Smiles and giggles ensued when Fraser spoke about being in the pub after work all night and Richard raising eyebrows at him.. ‘coke on tap!’ Fraser cheekily replied and Richard remembered with smiles that when they filmed with the dog it was always fun as with him just being a rescue dog and no trained actor one he was very unpredictable. And they both stressed there had been many laughs as there are indeed on screen. Both were fond of a picnic scene under the stars 🙂
Richard deferred to Fraser most of the times, I think both because he was indeed a bit tired, but also because the young man really did say all the right things 🙂 He did have 1-2 interesting thoughts to add. On the subject of what the story is about and what attracted him to it he mentioned how upon reading the book Bernie seemed to have put himself very much in the background but it was obvious he played an important role in the kids lives and made a difference and he really wanted to take the role on to bring that forward. And also in terms of making the difference he stressed the importance of stories being told, not just the ones Bernie tells the kids but also the way he gets the kids to write poetry and tell their own stories to each other. He said this was very important as it gave them purpose, a sense that they and their story mattered too because a big part of their lives previously had been to be ignored by everyone and forgotten. I thought that was a really interesting and thoughtful observation.
He’d also said earlier in the conversation with Caroline Goodall that he enjoyed being Chop and living that relaxed life, sitting there between takes rolling his 20 ciggies a day and not feeling the need to wash (the latter to our horrified laughs!). And also that he enjoyed being part of portraying the relationship between Chop and Urban on screen, that this bond man-child had been a big part of what interested him about the role as well.
I got a real sense that this film really matters to him. Of course the subject plays a big part and the role in getting a message out has been central to what he said about it. And of course he’d like his work to see the light of day but knows this does not always automatically happen. But I think also looking back on it, remembering it, but also seeing some of it again he’s fallen back in love with the movie itself. There was fresh, almost like newly discovered conviction that this is a good film (he said as much) and I think he also likes what he was able to do with Chop and would like it to be seen. I agree, he should be proud of Chop 🙂
Since there were no more questions, Richard took charge of expressing their thanks, including to everyone who had come to attend the screening. But to my surprise even though it was past 10,30pm at this point and everyone was tired they didn’t leave but stayed and mingled with everyone present who wanted to have a chat, get something signed etc.
I checked on our transport and confirmed that it had long gone since I’d not wanted to interrupt anything by running out to make phone calls and couldn’t find a number to text and called to arrange some new one apologising pretending to be tied up in a an event. I felt really bad for standing up a taxi driver who needed the fare and prioritising richarding instead! Luckily , as it turned out later it was the same one who stuck around the area who took us back to our hotel and we bestowed a generous tip for the annoyance caused earlier, phew! Conscience appeased!
Transport distraction dealt with I had no other reason to duck the obvious: Richard was there, talking to people.. what was I going to do? Apart from not having brought a scarp of paper or anything to sign on.. ah, I had the magazine. I looked at the small cue of people patiently waiting their turn..and walked in the other direction! In as.. I don’t know what to say to him, I’m so tired my brain feels foggy, have nothing to ask for… we’ll see how this pans out if there are still people waiting, let’s let everyone else be attended.
So I had a look around to see if Candida Brady has stayed back as well and Fraser and decided I wanted to say how glad I was this got another chance and hopefully more and congratulate him too. And as I found them among a small crowd an idea started to bloom. I flicked through the magazine not seeing much but realised it included the schedule for the festival and with it a small note in a corner on the premiere, with a photo of Anna Friel next to it. I figured it could be nice to have this signed as a small memorabilia for somebody who hadn’t been able to attend it, thankfully I did find a pen in my paperless bag! So thank I did and expressed my pleasure at the screening and how much I enjoyed seeing it again and was keen on seeing it many more times and asked Candida Brady to kindly sign next to the festival schedule and then had a quick chat with the utterly unflappable and lovely smiling Fraser! I said how brave I thought he was in taking the role and that he did a great job of supporting the film and explained I would really love to have his signature as well if he didn’t mind to which he calligraphed rather charmingly an inexperienced initial 🙂 I hope he’ll do well for himself as an actor and I’ll always have the pleasant memories of his 16 young self holding his own with a crowd 🙂
Well now, the signature thing was hardly going to be really nice unless I had all 3 there, so I looked at the cue again and it had gone considerably smaller. I slowly walked over and thought that fate will decide, it’s late and if he goes he goes, if there is nobody else waiting I’ll point the magazine his way. He seemed to be in no rush whatsoever, attentively talking to everyone, signing or photographing as requested, using his long arm to produce lovely selfies with the fans 🙂 Somebody had only the printed event ticket to sign and he saw the price and went: oh..£! He sounded impressed and slightly shocked LOL Richard, there was a small reception, it’s a bit more than a cinema ticket, mate 😉 It’s and you’re worth it though, don’t you worry ;-))))
When my turn came, I pointed to the magazine corner and explained about wanting to possibly auction it off to send the proceeds to actionforchilden (one women executive decision made!) and that because of that I’d kindly asked Candida and Fraser to sign pointing at signatures and if he wouldn’t mind please to do the same. He said that was a beautiful picture of her (Anna Friel) and I said that indeed it was. I have a memory of saying something about Fraser I think and him saying something about Fraser having shown him wrestling videos all the day because he wanted to train for it (Fraser not Rich!) but for the life of me I have no clue if he said it in context or to other people or what, I just remember him laughing and saying that. And he of course cramped his signature very nicely where I had pointed him to LOL… Not saying a single word about the magazine containing: 2 page interview with him, 2 page interview with Candida and 2 page feature on the film… which all would have made more decent places for their signatures than where I had decided to cramp them in my ignorance!!!!
I so wanted to slap myself with the Edge once I discovered it hours later but didn’t because I couldn’t ruin the magazine which I hope will make somebody very happy one day soon and in the process help the people who help the kids 🙂 I regret being so tongue-tied and not actually showing any of the enthusiasm I really felt. I was so afraid of going on too much, embarrassing myself, holding him up at that late hour any longer, etc that I ended up giving back nearly nothing of all the joy I received over the years watching him act or listening to him talk about his work. In the grand scheme of things of course it doesn’t matter and it didn’t really diminish the wonderful experience in any way 🙂 In fact it was so wonderful it kept me awake alongside the rest of the ladies until 3am that night just to keep chatting about it and for further 2 nights once I got home.
There are many thanks I would like to say or words of appreciation but composure sort of got in the way; so unfortunately it’s you the readers who end up on the receiving end of some of it!
Can’t wait for more of you too met Chop and Urban so we can talk some more.