Director: Richard Loncraine
Script: Desmond Lowden & Richard Loncraine
Cast: Bernard Hill, Richard Hope, Ken Bones, Derek Newark, Frances Tomelty, Kieran O’ Brien
Running time: 114 minutes
Hiller (Bernard Hill) is an electronic engineer, of the highest order, who is losing his grip on his life and is on the run from a mobster who paid him some money up-front to steal some important information from his employer. But, fearing the possible repercussions on his already falling apart marriage, he elects to make a run for it with his son (Kieran O’ Brien) and the money. Unfortunately, some of the mobster’s heavies catch up with Hiller and son, on the London Underground, and take them back to a large abandoned townhouse where Hiller is forced to make good on his initial promises.
Frustratingly, for Hiller, even when he obtains the required information, he’s still got to decode it for them. And, before he knows it, he’s sucked into a complicated plan to rob a bank and he’s soon ‘in the brown stuff’, way over his alcoholic head, when, as with most heists, things go awry, and Hiller and his boy are suddenly on the run again, but this time from the authorities.
Based on the novel by D. Lowden, Bellman and True is an engaging but peculiar film from George Harrison’s Handmade Films stable, made during the mid-eighties, when the UK was still producing some interesting film product.
First and foremost, this is Bernard Hill’s film. Right from the off we get a sense of his character’s inner turmoil through Hill’s amazingly soulful expressions. Hill has long been a character actor whom I’ve admired, ever since seeing his tour-de-force performance as unemployed man, Yosser Hughes, from the Boys from the Blackstuff (1982) TV series, written by Liverpudlian playwright Alan Bleasdale. And he doesn’t disappoint here either. He’s ably supported in this role by newcomer Kieran O’ Brien, as his son, and their father-son chemistry feels very real and natural, which provides the film with its emotional core. I quite enjoyed the scenes where Hiller tells his son some weird bedtime stories, which are clearly metaphors for their real lives or what they’d like their real lives to be like. My favourite line in the film even comes from such a scene as Hiller begins telling a story to his son: “The wine that tasted like a frosty morning…”
Fitting around all this are some classic British gangster-film tropes, right from some colourful language to overly complicated break-ins, through to a low budget car chase that’s still a lot of fun despite the less glamorous surrounds than your usual Hollywood productions. Plus, there’s a real sense of danger from the very British gangsters, particularly the main boss-man, who, at one point shoves a shotgun up between Hiller’s butt-checks to make him agree to help them!
The cinephotography, by Ken Westbury, is pretty decent, although there’s quite a bit of grain to be seen, although I’m sure this was intentional and how they originally shot it (mostly on location near Heathrow airport, by the sounds of it). The film has a kind of sixties British kitchen-sink drama vibe and overall grimness to it.
Overall, I enjoyed the film, although most modern cinema audiences may find it a bit too bleak and nuanced for their tastes. However, it’s definitely worth a look, if only for the excellent performances on offer.
Powerhouse Films are distributing Bellman and True on Blu-Ray. As per usual with Powerhouse Films there are plenty of special features including:
Running in Traffic (24 mins) – An interview with director Richard Loncraine where he explains that they rather awkwardly created both a movie and a three-part mini-series all from the same script. He also talks at length about his casting process, and how the only sets used were those based inside the bank.
Just an adventure (20 mins) – An interview with actor Kieran O’ Brien, who had played the 11-year old boy in the film. His main memory of the audition process was of him reading a scene, all the while having to eat a fruit salad while talking to Bernard Hill. He also recalls that the director used to make him laugh on set a lot by wearing a funnel on his head!
Cracking the system (17 mins) – An interview with the book’s author, Desmond Lowden, who wishes that he could have written another novel as successful as Bellman and True. He recalls his working as an editor’s assistant at Pinewood Studios, and discussing the research that he did into computing and bank security before he wrote his book.
Trust me (9.5 mins mins) – An interview with Colin Towns who wrote the music for the film after having previously worked with the director on Full Circle.
Theatrical Trailer (3 mins) – A decent trailer, although perhaps a bit too long.
Image gallery – 48 stills including some posters