Friday, September 28, 2012
“Police are just people – they don’t know how to fix a broken city.”
So says the director of gritty British film GHB, a harrowing depiction of a betrayed generation, the authorities and of a city shaken by unprecedented violence.
Just over a year ago London was hit by some of the worst riots this country has ever witnessed. Scenes of billowing smoke, people looting the high streets and police cordons reached our screens as a stunned nation watched on in disbelief. No one could have anticipated that the death of 28-year-old Mark Duggan would have hit upon a raw rage that ran through countless communities, eventually sparking anarchy across the biggest cities in the UK.
In just over a week, three people were killed, 14 were injured and countless homes and livelihoods destroyed.
Now, following a ‘feel good’ summer with the London 2012 Games, to the untrained eye the city is virtually unrecognizable.
“The anniversary of the riots was brushed under the carpet a little bit because of the Olympics,” actress Kellie Shirley, from Croydon, tells me whilst discussing her role as policewoman Louise in thriller GBH, set against the background of the violence.
“As a Londoner, I definitely have an affiliation with the riots. They have become such a seminal piece of our history and we will talk about them and their effect forever. That’s why I was drawn to the film.”
Created by a cast and crew of Londoners, GBH follows police officer Damien, who has a tainted past. A complex and far from likeable character, he was once a member of a vicious football gang known for their particular thirst for violence and intimidation. After years in a desolate existence, he joins the force to use his inner anger against the life he hated so much.
But with his former friends using his position as a way to avoid the law, things are far from easy, especially when he becomes involved with his colleague Louise, who has been led to the force by a family tragedy. Through their disillusioned eyes, we watch an angered generation mobilize with truly unexpected consequences.
“It is a very real film,” explains Nick Nevern, who plays lead character Damien. “It draws on so many issues that effect us all every day.”
And, for the creators of the film, it was the stark realism of August last year that provided a unique inspiration for the piece.
“I was sitting at home one night watching everything unfold on TV when I got a call from Simon [Phillips], the director of the piece,” recalls GBH’s producer Jonathan Sothcott.
“He just said to me – ‘I’ve got a great idea for a movie: let’s go out and catch some of what’s happening.’ So we took to the streets to try and capture it.
“It was a real ‘eureka’ moment for him.”
Simon, who filmed GBH in three weeks, takes over the story: “When we were filming, we asked teenagers as young as 14 if they knew who Mark Duggan was, whose death was the true reason for them being there. Not one knew who he was.
“It was then that it really struck home: we have robbed these young people of their jobs, their hope, everything. And that was why they were there.
“They didn’t have anything to lose: so what if they got a criminal record? They can’t get a job anyway. They had no respect for their surroundings or the authorities.”
Across the country, the public’s distrust of the police is more apparent than ever. In the past month, the release of the Hillsborough Report has condemned the South Yorkshire force for their failures and cover-ups from 23 years ago and left many contemplating the role of those employed to protect us.
Simon says: “When I was young, my parents told me to go and tell a police man if there was anything wrong. Now, for many children, they’d be the last people they’d call upon. It is certainly an issue that we explore in the film.”
But, as always, there are two sides to everything.
Simon continues: “London is broken. But the police don’t know how to fix things. They are just people, doing their job. They are no different to anyone else. They just wear a uniform.”
With the tragic deaths of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes in Manchester still in the nation’s mind, the message that police officers are just people doing their job could not be more prevalent. Indeed, the film couldn’t be released at a more opportune time.
“It’s almost as though art is imitating life in some strange way.” Nick says.
But with such tragedy occurring only weeks ago and the riots still a raw for those it hurt the most, was the director ever concerned the piece was a little too soon?
“We never wanted to be exploitative of the riots, that’s not what the piece is about,” Simon says. “It’s more or a reflection on a broken London and a disillusioned society with no one really sure how to fix it.”
Bleak? Perhaps. But a thought provoking and moving piece release that has been released at a particularly poignant time. And that is why the film is well worth watching. It asks you to reflect upon a London that is currently awash with the Olympic spirit and a London that - only a year ago - was on a knife-edge.
GBH is out on limited released in cinemas today and on DVD from Monday, October 1.