This sounds brilliant and a great way of making a film a community project. Thanks for Del for sending me the Guardian link.
A fortnight ago, a packed house gave a standing ovation to the world premiere of Under the Mud. Cate Blanchett, Dames Judi and Helen, and the puckish Daniel Craig were not in attendance. The occasion was not the Berlin film festival, nor the Baftas. The venue was Liverpool’s 2,000-capacity Philharmonic Hall, and you couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money.
Under the Mud is, in every sense, a community film, made for what producer Roy Boulter describes as “the bog-roll budget for most big films”. His company, Hurricane Films, cobbled together a few grand here and there from the local agencies (Northwest Vision, the Liverpool Culture Company), plus a bit of drug money – Glaxo Smith Kline made a £20,000 farewell donation as they closed down their south Liverpool factory – for a project the producer describes as “social surrealism”.
In fact, Under the Mud is a wonderful, magical, uplifting tale of one ordinary day in the life of an extraordinary working-class family – or vice versa. Mixing a hard-nosed cinéma vérité with animation, hallucination and one truly bizarre reimagining of Pink Floyd in a religious setting, Under the Mud is like Ken Loach on ecstasy. It’s Shameless the Movie as it would love to be if it didn’t have to filter its grit to middle-class taste.
The story is a familiar one. Irresistibly cute Olivia Potts (played by irresistibly cute Jasmine Mubery, age eight) wants a first Holy Communion to remember. That means a white carriage pulled by white horses and an all-singing communion dress (complete with angelic wings) that, quite literally, lights up the occasion. Her tipsy, thwarted father, Joe (played by one of the nation’s finest character actors, Andrew Schofield) and her repressed, still-gorgeous mother, Sally (Lisa Parry), attempt a ceasefire in their domestic war, just for the day. And the gloriously dysfunctional Potts family set off to enjoy little Livvy’s big day.
All the clan are there. Apart from mum and dad, there are big sister Paula (and her imaginary mate, Georgie); Paula’s actual best mate, Kelly (who talks so fast she needs subtitles); big brother Paul; and car-obsessed younger brother Karl, who sleeps in the garage in a bed carved from a customised Mini. And then there’s Magic.
Magic is Paul’s geeky pal who, since his mother died, has slept over so many times at the Potts’ madhouse that he is one of the family. Played by up-and-coming comedian and actor Lenny Wood, Magic is the Candide of the film – the idiot savant who sees all and affects little. He stands by mutely and observes Joe Potts pissing away the love of his life and he sees Sally tempted by the blandishments (and bundles of dough) of local gangster One Dig. But he can’t just stand there and watch his own true love, Paula Potts, being taken for a ride by the wannabe bigtime club legend DJ Worm.
Characters are ferried hither and thither by the permanently stoned, clairvoyant minicab driver, Chill – known as Mr Wrong for the uselessness of his predictions. Chill is another inspired piece of casting. Played by Keith Carter from the Rawhide stable of stand-up comics, he almost steals the show as he witnesses a terrified DJ Worm straddle a set of runaway aeroplane boarding stairs as they crash into a top-end Range Rover: “I didn’t see that coming!”
The screenplay has been written by 14 young people, most of whom are from the Speke/Garston area of south Liverpool, targeted by the EEC as an Objective 1 area of economic and social deprivation. Having just made the award-winning educational film Dead Drunk about the perils of teen binge-drinking, Boulter and his two partners in Hurricane, Sol Papadopoulos and Julie Currie, decided their next project should be a feature film. They linked up with a community-run internet cafe in Garston called Interchill and, having assured the teenage regulars they weren’t undercover police, settled into the process of producing a storyline.
As Papadopoulos explains when we meet in Hurricane’s offices in Liverpool’s Cathedral area, that was a painstaking process. The kids had barely written a short story between them, let alone a full-length screenplay. “We started off cutting out pictures from magazines and saying, ‘Go away and make something up, anything, about these people.’ From that we graduated to asking for their own anecdotes, everyday tales – funny, sad, mad, whatever – from their own lives. These personal accounts and stories became the spine of Under the Mud.”
The “mud” of the title refers to the setting, a tight-knit warren of terraced and council housing in the shadow of St Mary’s church by Garston docks in south Liverpool. It’s an area that has been cut off from the rest of the city by an expressway and flyover built to improve links between central Liverpool, the airport and the outlying industrial zones (Ford, for example, has a factory in the area). For all the positives it may have brought, the expressway has cut off Garston’s blood supply. Much of the housing in the neighbourhood is being bulldozed – another unforeseen impediment to the making of the film.
All the film’s action plays out over the course of a single day; by nightfall we’ve had punch-ups, underage car chases, meaningful debates on spray-tan and an utterly bizarre airport kidnapping. Underscored by a specially commissioned track from Pete Wylie, titled Sign On You Lazy Crimelord, there is also the most surreal, orchestrated church congregation sway you will ever see on film.
It’s a triumph. The film made me howl with laughter and, at times, it made me furious that they had to do this all by themselves. The 2,000-strong audience who gave the film and its young stars a prolonged ovation would seem to agree
Check out the official site.