EIFF 2015 – North V. South
Steven Nesbit’s North V. South attempts to loosely adapt the famous Shakespeare play Romeo & Juliet and set it in modern day Britain amidst the backdrop of a gangland dispute.
Shakespeare is definitely one of literature’s most adapted writers. The reason for this is that his stories at their core have a timeless quality to them. Many can relate to relationships made impossible by background or circumstances, dysfunctional family dynamics and just the general insanity that comes with being alive.
Using the setting of the North and South of England with their well known ideological rivalry makes a lot of sense especially to those that live in Britain and hear about this quite often. It marks a clear boundary between the two sides and makes for a rivalry that’s easy to follow from a structural point of view.
The two sides are easily anchored by narrative shorthand as well. It’s easy to know who works for the South because they are better spoken, better dressed and live more affluent lifestyles where the North have a much more colloquial way of speaking, are clearly a bit rough and are typically dressed down compared to their rivals. It’s your standard upper class/working class divide but it works because it draws the battle lines clearly and it’s all things we can easily identify with as an audience.
In the middle of all of this is Terry (Elliot Tittensor) and Willow (Charlotte Clarke). He’s a member of the North and she is the daughter of the South’s leader Vic Clarke (Steven Berkoff). They have fallen for one another in true Romeo & Juliet fashion. At the beginning of the film they are managing to get away with their secret rendezvous halfway between their territories but this changes when Terry’s boss John Claridge (Bernard Hill) becomes suspicious and starts to test Terry’s loyalty. From here the whole conflict erupts into something of a shooting War and neither side comes away unscathed.
Structurally this film is all over the place. The narration froM terry suggests that the central focus will be their impossible love story but it fades into the background so often that it never feels as important as it should be. This lack of focus means that neither Terry or Willow are especially well developed. I never got the impression that their romance was ever worth caring about so it was impossible to really care about what happened to them.
A lack of development leaves even the most interesting players in all this coming off as confusingly underdeveloped. Freema Agyeman’s femme fatale Penny is perhaps the best example of this. There are many hints at a torrid and difficult past for her that come across as wasted opportunities when there seems to be very little motivation behind her actions.
More of a focus is on the conflict between the gangs of the North and South. This is represented through the two leaders John Claridge and Vic Clarke and it comes across as vaguely interesting, certainly compared to anything else that’s going on here. There is nothing original about the conflict but it plays out well enough. You won’t be surprised but you might be entertained at least. Like the romantic plot there’s not enough time devoted to this to really get the viewer on board with any of it.
A big problem with it is that some of the events seem at odds with the tone. Everything established from the start suggest a vaguely realistic tone with relatively normal people aligned to different sides in an eternal conflict with each other. This starts to fall apart when a French hitman who also happens to be a transvestite chases down a car in his missile firing gyrocopter. This is actually a thing that happens and nobody in the film even blinks. It’s merely one example of strange things that the film just expects the viewer to accept.
At times this is entertaining but it is structurally all over the place. It could have been a strong love story with a gang war playing out in the background but a lack of focus on any of the elements at play make the whole thing feel a bit cluttered. I wouldn’t really recommend this one as similar things have been pulled off better elsewhere.