There is no Shakespearean ‘eternal summer’ for Shaun (Robert Carlyle) and Daz (Steve Evets). Shaun looks after wheelchair bound Daz in an impoverished ex-mining community in Derbyshire. Daz is mouthy, bitter and demanding while Shaun is silent, subservient and guilt-ridden – they clearly share past secrets. When Daz’s health deteriorates, Shaun is forced to confront his past and his future with Daz’s troubled son Daniel (Michael Socha) and old girlfriend Katy (Rachael Blake).
Sharing an aesthetic with Mike Leigh’s first film Bleak Moments (1971) and more recently Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson’s Garage, director Kenny Glenaan’s new film is a grim but humourous portrait of platonic friendship. With his previous films Gas Attack (2001) and Yasmin (2004), Scottish based Glenaan is better known, if at all, for his penchant for Loach-ian inflected naturalism and agit prop. His third feature is a more opaque and nuanced work than his previous efforts, informed more by Hugh Ellis’ excellent script than Glenaan’s political leanings. Riskily switching between modern day and Daz and Shaun’s troubled schooldays (using young actors), Summer could so easily have been another clichéd coming-of-age story. As it is it’s a fairly subtle rumination on large and small industrial migration, dependency, loss, regret, the failures of the English education system and the emasculation brought about by the end of mass mining in the UK.
Summer may not have the cheeriest of subtexts, but in a fitting nod to both Chekhov and DH Lawrence, the film is awash with the humour of despair and emotional illiteracy. The film is also beautifully acted with Carlyle in particular doing some of the very best work he has done in a while here. Though undeniably schematic and featuring a couple of silly continuity errors, Summer is a more than interesting Scottish film, and one deserving of its recent BAFTA gong.
GFT, Glasgow and selected release from Fri 5 Dec. Hear Glenaan interview at www.list.co.uk