Not-so-happy families ensue in this brilliantly dark comedy about low-level gangsters in Brighton.
British gangster film has rapidly become something of a joke. Rife with
diamond geezers, predictable plots and horrible acting it is a genre we
could happily forgo. Down Terrace is thankfully a breath of
fresh air in these stakes. In fact, so much so that to call it a
‘gangster’ film is to do it a huge disservice. For despite dealing with
low level drug dealers, Down Terrace is actually a bleak comedy that is much more interested in family dynamics in a way that smartly skews the mafia mythology.
Karl (Robin Hill) has just been acquitted in court and returns home with his father Bill (Robert Hill).
As they try to figure out who spoke to the police about the family’s
illegal ways they clash with each other as only friends and families
can. While Karl is shocked to discover a former girlfriend Valda (Peacock) is pregnant his mother Maggie (Deakin) worries the powers that be in London are not best pleased with the results her and the family are achieving.
There are no moments of Guy Ritchie (Snatch) flair or Danny Dyer (The Business)
squawking on offer in Down Terrace. It is an intimate affair that takes
place almost entirely in the family’s house. In many ways it pans out
as an almost soap opera like ideal but with the emphasis firmly on the
reality comedy of the situation. When problems arise this family do as
any other and resort to shouting at each other. Where it works so well
is in the ‘funny because it is true’ manner of communication.
Writer-director Wheatley, in his feature film debut, creates a
fly on the wall intimacy to the story. The house is small and we are
very much invited in to witness the bizarre goings on. While his
direction is perfectly aimed at the subject matter, without ever drawing
attention to it, his forte is in the writing. Down Terrace is always
played with a serious tone but one that is constantly giving a wink to
It is, in many ways, The Godfather (1972) gone amateur. A
sequence towards the end as Karl and Bill decide to eliminate potential
snitches, makes for a wonderful pastiche of Ford Coppola’s closing montage to his Mafia extravaganza. Suffice to say that Karl and Bill are not as efficient as Michael Corleone (Al Pacino)
but are certainly as ruthless. That their methods of killing involve
pushing old ladies in front of buses and poisoning tea gives an
indication as to the obvious level of humour aimed at the whole affair.
to Down Terrace’s pull is the chemistry between the characters. Robin
Hill, who has worked extensively with director Wheatley and also
co-wrote, as Karl is a hysterical man-child. One minute believing he is
the tough guy the next needing his mother to help him undo his tie. He
is at his most entertaining as he flits from whining idiot to
tantrum-fuelled ball of rage all the time walked over by his dominating
dad. That his onscreen father is played by his actual dad allows
for all the more convincing interactions between the two. Robert Hill as
the head of the family balances a perfect act of sinister crime lord
and horribly un-politically-correct father. His disapproving rolling of
the eyes conveys more than endless ranting could do and lends itself
much more to the family drama rather than gangster affair. The true
brains behind the family though seems to be wife and mother Maggie who,
by the end, has highlighted some terrifying evil that had previously
gone unnoticed. Julia Deakin, best known for her role in TV’s Spaced,
brings a wonderful calm to the family while hiding her true grit until
the final third.
Down Terrace is a hugely intelligent film that subverts the gangster
genre to such a degree as to make it both real and hysterical all in one
foul swoop. Similar in a way to this year’s Four Lions in the
manner in which is tackles its subject matter, but with the focus very
much on the macabre banality of crime life. Although the comedic edge
fades towards the end it is nonetheless a rewarding and enjoyable film that demands attention if only to show what the UK can produce. It would be criminal to miss out.