Dir: Pat Holden
Cert: 18 • UK: 96 min • Red Union Films • In Theatres
The scene is late ‘70s Liverpool. Paul Carty (Nicky Bell) is handsome, witty and bored rigid. Confined in middle-class suburbia with his mute father and spirited younger sister Molly (Holliday Grainger), they are grieving the recent loss of their mother. Carty’s craving for change draws him instantly to “The Pack”, a much-feared, outlandish gang of hooligans, many of whose vicious attacks he has witnessed at football matches. With scenery dripping in rain & disaffection played against a superb early ‘80s soundtrack, we are invited to follow Carty and his infatuation with The Pack, against the bleak and gritty canvas of Thatcher’s post-punk Britain, captured expertly by director Pat Holden.
Adapted for the screen by Kevin Sampson from his novel, Awaydays is the first major film to examine the dawn of the casual fashion cult and the football hooliganism that encircled it. Characterised by wedge haircuts, polo shirts, V-neck sweaters and Adidas trainers, our first glimpse of The Pack makes us want a piece of the action. The gang’s head henchman Godden (impeccably played by Stephen Graham) is a thirty something waster, whose moral compass only spikes at smack usage, whilst anything else is acceptable. His antipathy with his lot permeates down through the gang members, who embark on vicious attacks at football matches. Elvis (Liam Boyle) is the exception whose wardrobe, deviating from the Pack’s uniform, reveals this. His cool, individual style of bright colours complemented by his trendy leather boxer jacket or military trench coat sets him apart. When Elvis approaches Carty at a gig, Carty believes his discretion about The Pack’s many knife-happy indiscretions has endeared him to Elvis, but Elvis has different motives as it soon emerges that he is entranced by Carty and his love of art & music. Thwarting attempts to romanticize about the Pack, Elvis labels them a bunch of nobodies preferring to drag Carty to gigs and crashing at his bohemian pad, where a noose hangs from the ceiling symbolising the inevitability of mortality. Frustrated by Elvis’s constant denegration of the Pack, Carty attempts to further endear himself to his new mate in one hilarious, yet violent set piece. Elvis is taken aback by Carty’s attempts to bond with him and decides to invite him to the gang’s next awayday, which just happens to coincide with a visit to his Mother’s grave. But Carty wants to belong so badly, he attends the cemetery but then darts off to change into his casual garb and make the train.
The first bagarre that Carty is involved in sees him revel in the ruthless attacks, exemplified by an expression of absolute primeval joy, captured adeptly in slow-motion by Holden. Could this be the perfect outlet for Carty’s grief that has robbed him of his youth and passion?
There has been a glut of rite-of-passage tales in the last few years that deal with hooliganism (The Football Factory, Green Street) and frenzied violence (This Is England, Dean Man’s Shoes). What sets Awaydays apart from its peers are its inherent themes, such as unrequited burgeoning love, grief & isolation, culminating in a tragic denouement for the central pair that will change their lives forever. This, coupled with camerawork that would make even 28 Weeks Later seem slow, permits the film to transcend the premise that it is just another football hooliganism piece.
The cast is comprised mainly of newcomers to the big screen. Nicky Bell is outstanding as the disaffected Carty, and he evolves from evil, vicious hooligan to kind older brother with flair. Liam Boyle’s Elvis is a revelation. We see him go from idolized cool customer to tortured soul ruined by heroin and unrequited love. This is deftly reflected in his changing wardrobe from colourful stylishness to drab blandness when he is visibly ravaged by smack and his unreciprocated love for Carty. The chemistry between the pair could fire the national grid and the homoerotic undertones are subtly illustrated. Similarly, the remarkable Holliday Grainger commands the screen and epitomises angelic virtue, so much so that our hearts break when she is senselessly attacked.
The soundtrack compliments the visuals flawlessly, with Joy Divison, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and Ultravox all starring. Having seen my own brother fall prey to this fashion cult during the early ‘80s, the portrayal of The Pack, the music and the wardrobe are to me wholly authentic. Before seeing this film, I had never understood why he looked so smart and stylish when he was going to football matches!
Awaydays is indeed a riotous triumph from start to finish evoking Shane Meadow’s style of visceral storytelling with some nifty camerawork. There are clever parallels drawn between the disaffected youth of The Pack and the petit bourgeoisie who are just as bored with their anodyne lives punctuated by summer holidays and Christmas piss-ups. Mercifully, there is not much football footage, as this may have skewed the message that the hooliganism was in fact borne out of boredom and disaffection and not from some mindless obsession with football.
Of all the things we could do together,
you’d rather go fighting with a bunch of
pissed up knobheads…
More than you could ever imagine!