Shane Meadows has a rare ability to convey the drama and humor of everyday life in well-observed, well-acted scenes that rarely drag on interminably or try too hard to dazzle. The biggest problem with Meadows’ films to date is that they tend to give way to plots unworthy of their best moments, often pumped up with gratuitous violence and pat conclusions. That isn’t the case with Somers Town, Meadows’ latest, written with frequent collaborator Paul Fraser. Originally intended as a short film sponsored by railway line Eurostar—whose construction around London’s St. Pancras station figures prominently in the story—Somers Town evolved into a short feature as Meadows kept allowing his cast to improvise. Meadows has said that he let some scenes play out for hours, then excerpted their best one or two minutes. The result is a movie that feels enjoyably aimless—one that invites viewers to just hang out for an hour.
Thomas Turgoose (the baby-faced, sad-eyed star of Meadows’ This Is England) plays a Midlands teen who runs away from home and takes the train to London, where he befriends Piotr Jagiello, a Polish immigrant who lives with his single dad. For the bulk of Somers Town’s 70-minute running time, Turgoose and Jagiello just roam the streets, working odd jobs and doing petty crimes, while mooning over the French waitress at a local café. Sometimes the dialogue is hard to hear—especially Jagiello’s—but it’s never hard to understand. As the two boys wander around an apartment complex stamped with the sign “Children Playing On These Grounds Is Prohibited,” it becomes increasingly clear that both have been asked to grow up before they were ready—when neither really has any idea how to dress, provide for himself, or talk to a girl. Yet Meadows and Fraser also imply that Turgoose and Jagiello will be probably be okay, because if nothing else, they live in Europe, where a good mate is easy to find, rail-fare is cheap, and anyone looking for a change can just buy a ticket and get gone.