10
May 09

The Canterbury House Tales

Do You See + FTPost a comment • 522 views

The reviews I have seen elsewhere for Shifty have all been pretty good. Nevertheless all the reviews could not dodge the fact that this is a low budget small town drug drama. A friend of mine has the “Human Traffic” rule, basically that British drug dramas are by their very nature terrible. I am not so judgemental, but I only went to see Shifty because it had such good reviews and I wanted the rule to be broken. Which has left me with a problem.

Shifty is a good movie. It feels grounded, the character relationships work and the setting seems absolutely authentic for a film about small town suburban drug dealing. Because it is filmed in my home town, and my home town has exactly the problems displayed in the film. Does this make me too close?

Shifty is a smart kid, his school results are mentioned a few times, who has become a smalltown dealer. And so we get the usual heirachy of dealers, duplicity and drug deals going wrong. We get the strung out junkie desperate for a fix but with no money, more casual users and low level hoods. Into this mix comes Shifty’s old friend Chris, who got out of this life four years before. Can Shifty make it through the day alive, and consider leaving what he sees to be a good life. Its all very after school special, except a good script and some excellent acting moves it to something that feels very real. But then as I said, this may just be because when Shifty hangs around Canterbury House and walks up Stratfield Road, and turns into Chandos Road all of those places a very real to me. I grew up about a mile away from these streets, my sister had her wedding party in the community centre in the film and I used to play in the playground that Shifty and Chris hang around in (unfortunately the old concrete Polar Bears have been removed). What the writer director Evan Creevy manages to do for me at least is make it look like it took place on one day in those old streets, peopled with people I recognise. He even manages to stage his mugging / fight in the one underpass in the town that I would never go under because it was one of the few places in the town the junkies would come out in the open. When the film turns a corner, the correct street turns ups.

Ironically the one thing that isn’t real in Shifty is the name of the town (Dudlowe). And in the reviews the film is said to be based around Creevy’s experiences of his own home town Harlow. So Borehamwood stands in for Harlow, but that just illustrates the problem being more than just a one town problem. Creevy’s Harlow, is my Borehamwood, and hundreds of other satellite towns in Surrey, Essex, Hertfordshire and the rest of Britain.

Borehamwood is, of course, a film town. It has film studios, television studios. In one scene, where Shifty and Chris are running from the police they run down an alleyway that bounds the BBC studios, just next to the Albert Square set. But this doesn’t touch the town. The closest most of the second generation residents of Borehamwood get to the film and TV business is baying at the Big Brother contestants. Its a town twenty minutes by train from central London, but one with a small drug problem, a lot of commuters who take no part in the towns life and people who have given up hope. I suppose what I got out of Shifty that others will not, is a strange kind of honesty in the film-making. Sure this is a fictional film, and isn’t even about the place it is filmed, but in merely making the geography of the film respect the geography of the real town, suggests that in other ways the film has more truth in it too. And Canterbury House – the towns one high rise – never looked so imposing.

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