Films about football hooligans have resulted in some of the worst examples of British filmmaking in the last ten years – Green Street, Rise of the Footsoldier, The Football Factory have all scored own goals. So it comes as something of a surprise result that Cass stands alongside Alan Clarke’s hitherto untouchable hooligan yarn The Firm at the top of the filmmaking table. Whether West Ham’s notorious Inter City Firm (ICF) was ever the toughest supporter’s crew is debatable, but what is for sure is that films detailing the shenanigans of this band of East Londoners during the Thatcher years have certainly proved to be the most cinematic.
Based on the true story of Cass Pennant, the most prominent black football hooligan to be accepted by white working class yobs as one of their own, Cass tells an eminently cinematic story. It’s helped here by a man-of-the-match performance from Nonso Anozie (Happy Go Lucky, Atonement) as the loveable rogue adopted by a white mother as a baby and seriously confused about his own identity. He grows into a pivotal figure in the ICF and the film pivots on his relationship with his wife (Nathalie Press), his best friend Freeman (Leo Gregory) and his dear old ma (Linda Bassett).
As with Shane Meadows’ This is England, the influence of Thatcher on working class lives is heavily played on, but this is a far superior film in delivering a message about racism and what it felt like to be part of the black working class. Indeed, the clever camera work, pacing and social message is closest to Isaac Julien’s 1991 cult classic Young Soul Rebels.
Cass isn’t simply a football hooligan movie for the arthouse crowd; there are plenty of well choreographed fighting scenes and the movie ends with Cass at war with an Arsenal fan (rising star Bronson Webb in a brilliant cameo). Some dodgy dialogue and poor characterisation aside, writer/director Jon S Baird performs a blinder of a debut game.
General release from Fri 1 Aug.