The Wirral, late 1970s. Middle-class Carty (Nicky Bell) is a 19-year-old art school dropout stuck in a pen-pushing office job. He’s in awe of The Pack, a gang of knife-wielding local football hooligans who dress in designer label sportswear. At an Echo and the Bunnymen concert Carty bumps into one of the Pack’s most charismatic members, Elvis (Liam Boyle), and an intense friendship quickly develops between the two men. But, while the volatile Elvis dreams of escaping abroad to Berlin, Carty wants to be in the midst of the Pack at their awayday brawls.
Adapted by Kevin Sampson from his own cult novel, this rites of passage tale successfully captures some of the pleasures of belonging to a youth subculture: it pinpoints the ‘soccer casual’ clothes, trainers and haircuts, the group camaraderie, and the ‘buzz’ triggered by facing up to and fighting rival firms.
Awaydays, however, suffers from comparisons with such outstanding predecessors as Control and This is England. It’s an episodic, repetitive affair, whose sub-plots (Carty’s sister’s treatment at the hands of posh rugby players, the feuding over leadership within the Pack) distract from the focus on the emotionally-charged relationship between Carty and Elvis.
Despite committed performances from newcomers Bell and Boyle and solid support from Stephen Graham as a hooligan organiser, director Pat Holden over-relies in individual sequences on his impeccable post-punk soundtrack (Ultravox, Joy Division, Magazine) for emotional effect, and the grainy digital cinematography gives the film a disappointingly murky look.
General release from Fri 22 May.