Laya Lewis as ‘Beverley Thompson’ in, Beverley (2015) Beverley Thompson has a pretty good idea of who she is… now. She is a writer. When Thompson first met producer Cass Pennant and writer-director Alexander Thomas a few years ago, she identified herself as a ‘Rude Girl’, because former football hooligan Pennant had her wrongly pegged as a ‘Casual’ – a sub-culture of the football hooligan movement, who wore designer labels and no club colours to infiltrate the football grounds and avoid easy detection by security forces. This inspired Pennant to make, Beverley, a short film of only 25 minutes which, with empathic accuracy, explores labels, identity and belonging.
All of which had been major influences in both their lives. Pennant had already penned his life story and seen it brought to life with Nonso Anozie in the starring role of Cass (2008). Now, he was moved to do the same for Beverley. On Saturday January 10th 2015, Beverley premiered at the Hackney Picturehouse to a sell-out, 300-strong audience, which included the cast, crew. My turn came just under a week later at the intimate Roxy Bar and Cinema on the Borough Road, SE1. I have written before of the new and growing respect I have for the film short as an art form distinct from the feature. This is due, in no small part, to young British talent such as Nathan Byron, Theresa Varga, Sanchez Brown as well as, of course, the TriForce Short Film Festival.
Without any of the excellent work I had already experienced from these artists in 2014, this film would have convinced me, no question. Beverley presents a 3-month period in the life of mixed-race teen, Beverley Thompson (Laya Lewis), as her slightly sketchy Jamaican father, Travis (Winston Ellis), moves the family from the city to the suburbs of Leicester. Janine, her white mother (absolutely nailed by BAFTA-winning Vicky McClure), is a capable parent. But she is constantly wary, which is subtly justified as a group of National Fronters pass by their window, and as the bright, greeting smile of their new suburban neighbours freezes in rictus bewilderment once Travis, Beverley, Carl (Corey Trevor) and Jess (Sennia Nanua) emerge from the car in the driveway of their new home.
What happens next completely immerses the viewer in early 1980s Britain, told to the backdrop of an ever-excellent Ska and Two-Tone soundtrack and on-screen performances. Lewis lives up to the promise glimpsed as Liv Malone in series 5 and 6 of Skins as she fully inhabits Beverley. She must deal with adolescence in a restive Britain, her physical ethnicity, apparently misplaced in the northern city ‘burbs. She must deal with notions of ethnic beauty, inter-racial attraction and clashes of sub-cultures. She must find friends, and does so in the most unlikely of places. The complex paradox of the group she comes to identify with and the daily conflict each group member faces is handled with unforced care, with attention paid to subtleties often missing from portrayals of the UK’s various sub-cultures. You cannot help but guess at where the situation may be heading.
Despite this, you will find yourself pushing any preconceptions away and remaining open to the possibilities of an engaging narrative, skilled story-telling and truly winning performances. I did. Corey Trevor as ‘Carl’ and Winston Ellis as ‘Travis’ in one of their scenes in particular. Pennant and Thomas chose an open ending for the film, leaving the possibility of further development into a feature or, as some of the audience felt, a series. Honestly? I think it could work as either, or both! Why not? The music is, as it always has been, magnetic and full of energy. It had particular meaning for Thompson, who confessed that it was the first time she had seen black and white musicians together on-stage performing lyrics she could relate to.
The subtle influence of the music can also be felt in a great scene where younger brother Carl, also in a search for his identity, ‘escapes’ to family friend Otis’ home. Otis, played by King Sounds is joined in this nicely observed, short scene by the legendary Neville Staple of The Specials AKA as Neville. So awesome! The closing song, Oh Beverley was performed by The Stone Foundation, who wrote it specially and will be featuring it on their forthcoming album. It’s a great track.
Beverley is an outstanding piece on several levels, because it was entirely crowd-funded. Filming was made possible by the giving generosity and support of the local residents, bus-drivers and cabbies of Leicester. It is another example which more than justifies the insistence that non-London locations for stories simply work and deserve investment. The camerawork and photography is effective – red, white and blue themes being used to great value by Paul Ozgur. Towelah and Alice Phiri added to the authentic atmosphere with their excellent period costume designs. Thomas has taken a mainly young cast and coaxed almost pitch-perfect performances from them. He puts it down to the training they had already received from the likes of Ian Smith at the Nottingham Television Workshop. The cast say it’s more to do with Thomas’ relaxed working style against his desire for precision. He gives great notes, but allows the actors to bring in their own elements, and his passion for the narrative simply kept the story flowing.
Alexander Thomas also wrote the screenplay with input from production assistant Thompson herself and, I must say, he has produced an authentic piece of uniquely English history. I am particularly impressed, because Thomas is white. It is not often that I truly feel the authenticity of ethnic pieces written or directed by white artists; they even, at times, suffer at the hands of white producers (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) and Cry Freedom (1987), to name a couple suffered from a combination of each). But, (and I will repeat myself here), with empathic accuracy Thomas handles Thompson’s very personal story with unforced care and with attention paid to subtleties often missing from portrayals of the UK’s various sub-cultures.
I hope to see Beverley at least screened in the best of the forthcoming Film Festivals, and I would hope that it would win a few awards along the way. It deserves it.
Catch this film any way you can, but in the meantime, check out the trailer.