Awaydays (2009)

Leader of the pack

It’s November 1979, and despite the shadow already cast by the new Thatcher government, Liverpool is still a gritty, beating urban heartland. Frustrated 19-year-old Carty (Nicky Bell) is desperate to get his hands dirty in the city’s murky underbelly, but his suburban background prevents him from being accepted into the local gang, The Pack. Dressed in a uniform of jeans, trainers and windbreakers, The Pack is notorious for causing violent havoc at local football matches. But it’s not until Carty meets Elvis (Liam Boyle) that he is allowed into The Pack’s inner sanctum and, although he initially relishes the freedom, his relationship with Elvis grows increasingly at odds with the gang’s mentality and Carty realises he may soon have to make a very difficult choice.

Awaydays certainly captures the essence of late ‘70s England. Filmed in subdued tones, the camera frequently lingers over Liverpool’s industrial landscape and, as Elvis and Carty stare over the Mersey with dreams of escape, so director Pat Holden effectively conveys the doubts that hung heavy over the future of the North as the UK marched into a new decade with a determined Thatcher at the helm.

But this adaptation of Kevin Sampson’s novel is not a mouthpiece for political finger pointing, rather it has a deeply, intensely personal focus on the relationship between these two boys and how it plays out against this tumultuous backdrop. The whole film rests squarely on the dynamic between Carty and Elvis, and so it was essential that Holden cast two actors strong enough to carry such weighty themes. And he has – Nicky Bell is a taut, coiled spring as Carty, bursting with the repressed anger and social frustration that drives his need for violent release. Liam Boyle is absolutely mesmerising as Elvis, capturing both his blistering streetwise bravado and his desperate vulnerability as he struggles with a secret that threatens to tear him apart.

It’s perhaps because they are so well defined that other characters melt into the background. Although Carty’s sister Molly (Holly Granger) proves to be the catalyst for the film’s climax, she is reduced to the wallflower cliché of a forgotten younger sibling. The Pack’s older leader John (Stephen Graham) is more Scouse caricature than intimidating ringleader, and the other members of the Pack are so overshadowed by Carty and Elvis that they dissolve into one yobbish mass. As such, some of the Pack sequences become rather samey and could have done with a deft editorial slice.

But this is the tale of Carty and Elvis and, when the focus is on them, the film shines despite the grim feel that permeates every scene. Feel good it ‘aint, but with a well-chosen, punky soundtrack, excellent attention to Eighties detail and two stonking lead performances, Awaydays deserves to be seen by a larger audience that it’s likely to attract.

3 stars

Stars Nicky Bell, Liam Boyle, Stephen Graham
Director Pat Holden
Screenplay Kevin Sampson
Certificate 15
Distributor Optimum Releasing
Running Time 1hr 45mins
Opening Date May 22nd