Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Snapper (1993) - Stephen Frears

One of those films that I've seen more times than I probably should have. The Snapper is the second screen adaptation of Roddy Doyle's first three novels - The Barrytown Trilogy. The first of which was The Commitments. Of course everyone remembers The Commitments, all white soul, mucky swearing, plenty of Oirish types and a fat bloke singing. It's actually not a bad film, but The Snapper is far better.

The premise of The Snapper is a simple one. Sharon Curley gets pregnant after a drunken knee trembler with one of her best friends dads. Naturally enough she isn't overly keen on telling anyone who the father of the baby is, least of all her family. So far so Ken Loach, except this is Roddy Doyleland, so despite the fact that Sharon is living at home with her five siblings and both parents, there is no real dark drama here. Everyone is unemployed but it doesn't appear to be an issue. It's all horses in the streets, bad teeth and hitting the kids round the face when they swear at the dinner table. In short it's not gritty real life, more Father Ted, than In the Name of the Father. It's escapism, but escapism through a Mike Leigh shaped prism.

Surprisingly since The Commitments was such a huge worldwide smash of a movie, this was initially made for TV. After being shown on the box though it was given a theatrical release and did enough business to green light the last of the trilogy - '96's The Van. Frears has had a longstanding career making films for TV, as well as huge efforts for the wallets across the pond. In fact some of his best moments are from these low budget TV films, obviously thriving on the tight time schedule and limitations these sort of productions tend to have. Still having said that it does seem odd that the director of Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters ended up making a film for the BBC this late in his career. I'm glad he did though since I think it's one of his best.

Typically for a Frears film the casting is great, and the script is water tight (written by Doyle himself). Frears isn't a director given to using crane shots or anything too complex, it feels very much like he films what the actors are doing. Which might sound simplistic, but it's honestly something that doesn't happen half as much as you might think. The film really focuses on the relationship between Sharon (Tina Kellegher) and her Da (Colm Meaney). Both are outstanding, but it's the gaggle of kids that get most of the laughs from me, I'll never tire of seeing a little girl sticking a fork in a plug socket.

As I said earlier I've seen this many many times, for me it has everything that I love about Stephen Frears' work. Non pretentious, great acting, tight script and an interesting story. I would never think of him as one of my favourite directors, but just having a quick glance through his filmography shows that he actually is. Prick Up Your Ears is probably my favourite Gary Oldman film (along with Alan Clarke's The Firm), and then there are films as diverse as The Queen, Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door, Three Men in a Boat and the aforementioned The Grifters. Everyone of those I could happily slip into my DVD player right now and while away the evening with. So with all that in mind, the biggest question I have is how did it all go so badly wrong, when making the last of The Barrytown Trilogy - The Van? A film so bad, that I've sworn to myself never to watch it again.

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