Title: Common People
Director: Stewart Alexander, Kerry Skinner
Major Players: Sam Kelly, Diana Payan, Kerry Skinner
Out Of Five: 3.5
I love it when a film creates a momentum all of its own! Micro-budget British movie Common People had its first outing back in January for one night only at Clapham Picturehouse. Such was the response from audiences that the one night turned into nine weeks. Now it’s about to be screened at all Picturehouse cinemas this Tuesday, followed by a DVD and VOD release on Thursday, 12th.
Set in a nameless park, or common, somewhere in suburban London the film follows six interweaving stories of people who visit the common as part of their daily lives. From all ages, backgrounds and races, with their individual problems and sources of happiness, they’re just like any other group of people you would walk past in the park. Everybody has their own story. It’s just that these people are coincidentally linked together by an escaped parrot.
Princess Parroty’s liberation – she gets out of her cage and flies out of an open window – gives the audience their first view of the common. Literally a bird’s eye view. On the ground, all manner of people are enjoying the brilliant sunshine: there’s a procession of yummy mummies jogging with their baby buggies, cyclists, people playing sport, others having coffee. But, as Princess Parroty lands in a tree, so the camera zooms in on specific people.
The storylines concern a silent homeless man, a heavily pregnant lady, an elderly couple, a scout troupe, a widower and his young daughter and a group of friends who use the common as a meeting place. But their paths cross and intertwine, weaving a colourful and, at times, emotional tapestry. And there are other characters on the fringes, some who are merely spectators and others who come to play a real part in one of the stories.
So, the pregnant lady, Jenny (Kerry Skinner), talks to the homeless man (Michael Ballard) because he looks like the father of her baby, a soldier who went off to Afghanistan. And when she suddenly goes into labour on the common later on, it’s the scouts and their leader who help deliver the baby, easily the best good deed they’ll ever do in their lives.
The widower, Ian (Iarla McGowan), spends a lot of time on his mobile talking to his bank: he’s out of work, looking after his daughter, and life is tough. Three men applaud him for berating his bank and re-appear when he the initially peripheral Simon (Joshua Herdman), owner of Trevor, a dog who appears to have attended obedience classes run by the notorious Fenton. Trevor’s fouled the footpath and Ian’s not cleared it up. Earlier in the film, Ian’s daughter appears to have been smeared in mud, but it turns out to be dog mess and she risks losing an eye as a result. It’s all too much for the stressed father – until the same three men intervene and defuse the situation.
We’re introduced to the elderly couple Derrick and Pam (Sam Kelly and Diana Payan) in some of the funniest and most beautifully executed scenes of the film. As they sit watching a couple of Jack Russells, they give them ‘voices’: they’re old enough to remember Johnny Morris in Animal Magic, after all! They’re clearly devoted to each other but also facing their own mortality, since Derrick has just come out of hospital. Later in the film, Derrick is alone, but the chatty Jenny joins him on a bench and he becomes the prime mover in getting Princess Parroty to safety.
And then there’s the four friends who use the common as a meeting place. At first, Harry (Stewart Alexander) appears to be a serious cyclist, dressed in Lycra, but it soon becomes apparent that he’s actually more interested in drink – and one of his friends Alesha (Eleanor Fanyinka). There’s very little interaction between this group and the rest of the characters, but their story has enough twists and turns in its own right, mainly focussing on Harry’s stumbling attempts at romance.
Despite Derrick and Pam’s talk of ending their lives, the first third of the film is optimistic in tone and shot in brilliant summer sunshine. But the sun has gone in for the second one, even though the season hasn’t changed as the trees are still nicely green. The tone of the film has darkened, with the homeless man being tormented by four lads with time on their hands. It’s also when Ian attacks dog owner, Joshua. But, by the time the final part of the film arrives, the mood has lightened again, the sun has come out and most of the stories have reached a satisfying resolution. Not all of them though: we’ve discovered that the homeless man is a soldier but is he also the father of Jenny’s baby? We never know for sure.
With the exception of Sam Kelly, the cast is made up of unknown faces, strengthening the film’s feeling of reality and the credibility of the performances. There’s no previous incarnations to distract the audiences and, while all the cast deliver, Kelly and his on-screen wife, Diana Payan, are pitch perfect as they mix tenderness and pathos. To see romance still in full bloom in later life is delightfully refreshing.
There’s no connection between Common People and Britpop band, Pulp, whose documentary I reviewed a few days ago. It’s just a gentle pun in a film that provides genuinely laugh-out-loud moments and others that need tissues. It may have been made on a small budget, but it’s big on heart and more than deserves the audience that will hopefully come with this week’s wider release.
Common People is screened at the 17 Picturehouse cinemas around the country this Tuesday, 10 June. It’s available on DVD and VOD from Thursday, 12 June.