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The Plough at Lupton

19/09/21

Cow Brow, Carnforth

We’ve been in Manchester for a joyful occasion – my daughter’s wedding, thanks for asking – and we’re all too aware that, after our enthusiastic celebrations of the previous night, we’ll be somewhat delicate and in poor shape for the long drive back to Edinburgh. So it seems eminently sensible to break up the journey with a relaxing stopover somewhere in the Lake District. We put out an enquiry on the Elis James and John Robins Podcast Devotee Facebook group and The Plough, just an hour’s drive out of Media City, is heartily recommended to us.

Which is why, the following morning, we find ourselves heading off the M6 in search of the place.

It’s ridiculously easy to find and turns out to be a charmingly rustic establishment, nestled invitingly amidst the greenery. Our suite – The Torsin – turns out to be positively palatial with a bathroom big enough to house the entire room where we’ve spent the previous night (The Holiday Inn, Salford Quays, whose idea of luxury is a couple of sachets of Nescafe and an ironing board). At The Plough, there’s a proper espresso machine, and the massive bathroom contains a shower, a freestanding bath and a pair of wash basins. There are cotton bathrobes, comfortable sofas and a level of design that both pleases the eye and offers supreme comfort. (Maybe I’m not mad about the dining table mounted on a bronze horse’s head, but it really is my only niggle.) What’s more, here, a fabulous breakfast is included in the price, whereas, at the Holiday Inn, mediocrity is an extra eleven pounds a head. There are even some delightful country walks beginning just a few steps from The Plough’s front door. I’m already regretting that we didn’t book in for longer.

Ah, but what of the food?

There’s many a charming location that’s let down by the standards of its cuisine – but not so here. After a couple of bracing aperitifs in the beer garden, we wander into the dining room and order our evening meals. We both go for fishy starters. There’s a splendid prawn salad served on crunchy toasted sourdough and a crab, avocado and tomato creation that’s zesty and mouthwatering. It’s a promising start.

It’s a Sunday, so we’re in the mood for a roast dinner and we both opt for the lamb. I have a few misgivings about missing out on the huge Yorkshire puddings I spot on somebody else’s table, but it turns out that they aren’t reserved just for the beefeaters in the room. The lamb is suitably succulent, the selection of vegetables nicely al dente and there’s even an accompanying bowl of cauliflower cheese. The portions, though generous, are just enough to allow me to finish everything on the plate.

We take a wee break and share a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and then, purely because we feel no place can be properly judged unless a pudding is sampled, we eventually order a sharing fondue, with doughnuts, a selection of fruits, some marshmallows and a delectable chocolate dipping sauce. We make short work of it and it provides a satisfying ending to an enjoyable meal.

So, those in need of a luxurious break in the Lake District, should look no further than The Plough. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Edfest Bouquets 2021

Once again, it’s time to award our virtual black bouquets to the best performances we saw at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. But of course, it has been a year unlike any other. We were relieved and delighted to see the return of the Fringe, but nobody could ever claim that it was fully back. This was a shadow of its former self.

Still, that said, having fewer shows to choose from did mean that the smaller productions attracted bigger audiences than they might usually hope for – and there was something wonderful about seeing a modest student show pulling in sell-out crowds.

And we did see some brilliant stuff.

So, without further ado, we present our choice of the best shows we saw at Edfest 2021.

THEATRE

Screen 9

Piccolo Theatre’s powerful and compelling slice of verbatim drama was based on the testimonies of four survivors of the 2012 The Dark Knight Rises cinema shooting. Stark and immersive, it was ‘an enervating and thought-provoking theatrical experience, not to be missed.’

Shook

Twisted Corner’s production of Samuel Bailey’s affecting play was handled with aplomb by director, Rebecca Morgan and featured memorable performances as three young offenders attempted to get to grips with parenting classes. ‘Powerful and yet humbling – a fascinating examination of masculinity and fatherhood.’

Wish List

Katherine Soper’s play detailed the travails of a young woman, trying to care for her housebound older brother whilst also attempting to earn a wage by packing goods in an Amazon warehouse. This engaging four-hander, performed by actors from Edinburgh Napier University, showed ‘the extraordinary resilience of everyday people.’

Myra’s Story

Fionna Hewitt-Twamley’s knockout performance in Brian Foster’s engaging monologue made this one of the festival’s biggest hits, playing to sellout audiences. It was wonderful too to see that it had partnered with two Edinburgh homelessness charities. Twamley delivered her heartbreaking tale ‘with wit and aplomb.’

COMEDY

Skank

Clementine Bogg-Hargrove’s wry look at millennial life, based on her own experiences, was charming and off-beat. Though it was mostly very, VERY funny, it had some tender moments too. Cleverly directed by Hargroves and Zoey Barnes, this was an excellent example of ‘art doing what art is meant to do.’

Myra Dubois: Dead Funny

No Fringe is complete without a decent drag act and Myra Dubois was exactly what was required. Providing the oration for her own funeral (why not?), the Yorkshire Diva interacted (or more accurately, picked on) people who sat too near the stage and the result was ‘silly and audacious, eliciting helpless laughter.’

The Importance of Being… Earnest?

Director Simon Paris offered us a radical interpretation of the classic Oscar Wilde play, where certain members of the cast (including Ernest) were missing and members of the audience cajoled into taking their place. ‘Roistering, good-natured stuff, fast, frenetic and farcical. A truly interactive experience.’

SPECIAL MENTIONS

On Your Bike

This sprightly musical from Cambridge University’s Musical Theatre Society, written by Joe Venable and Ben James, was all about food delivery riders for… ahem… Eatseroo. All the right ingredients were in evidence. ‘Fabulous voices, upbeat zesty songs, humour and tenderness.’

Cameron Cook: It All

There’s always room on the Fringe for a true eccentric, and Cameron Cook was a perfect example. While it’s hard to define, this was a mesmerising piece, as Cook sang, danced, mimed and performed poetry, whilst inhabiting what seemed like a huge cast of characters. At times it felt like ‘the services of an exorcist might be required.’

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

Cruella

02/05/21

Cineworld

When Disney announced this release, my anticipation barely registered on the ‘need to see’ scale. I mean, ho hum, how good can an origin story for a two-dimensional Disney character be, anyway?

The answer is: very good indeed. It only takes ten minutes or so to convince me that this is, in fact, a brilliant notion – and indeed, Cruella is genuinely the most fun I’ve had in a cinema since the reopening of these hallowed portals (admittedly, it’s only been a few weeks). While it might not fully explain why a seemingly lovely woman would turn into a puppy-hating psychopath, it’s nonetheless an absolute delight from start to finish, featuring eye-popping haute couture, a superb ensemble cast and all backed up by a soundtrack of stone cold 60s classics from the Stones to the Zombies. What’s not to like?

Our story begins in the 1950s, with the birth of Estella Miller, a child with shockingly distinctive hair. It’s not long before she’s grown a bit and is making a name for herself at school – as a cocksure, arrogant rebel with total self-belief. She never fails to fuel the ire of her teachers and fellow pupils. Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) harbours a burning ambition. She longs to be a fashion designer just like her idol, the infamous Baroness (Emma Thompson). Estella also has a dark side – a character her Mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), calls ‘Cruella,’ and who she insists must be kept hidden from the world. However, when her daughter is thrown out of yet another school, Catherine resolves to take her to London where she’ll have a chance of achieving the career she longs for. But the two of them must first make a brief stop en route…

Then, in a bizarre twist of fate – one that I really can’t give away – Estella is orphaned and she falls in with a couple of artful dodgers, who introduce her to a life of crime in the big city and who also provide her with some much-needed companionship. Before very long (the film seems to hurtle along at a breathless pace), it’s the swinging 60s. Estella has grown up to be Emma Stone and her friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) have somehow managed to wangle her at job at Liberty’s of London… okay, so she’s only cleaning toilets, but you have to start from the bottom, right?

And then her talents come to the attention of The Baroness herself and Estella’s life takes a massive step up. Now she is being called upon to create a whole series of stunning designs for the The Baroness’s fashion house, designs that her new employer is only too happy to take all the credit for.

But how long before the dark persona hidden inside this ambitious young woman comes clawing her way back to the surface, intent on grabbing the limelight for herself?

What ensues is a delicious war between Cruella and The Baroness. Stone is effortlessly cool both as Cruella and as her slightly more subdued other half, handling an upper crust English accent with aplomb and looking like she’s setting the screen ablaze with the merest smirk. Thompson is wonderfully evil, making Meryl Streep’s turn in the inferior The Devil Wears Prada (a film that Cruella shares some DNA with) look positively cuddly by comparison. Thompson is also very funny in the role.

As the decade hurtles towards the 70s, so the fashions become ever more trashy (bin lorry chic anyone?) and the cinematic jukebox offers us the likes of The Clash and ELO. Seriously, you’ll be dancing in your seat. All we need is a big, brash conclusion and, happily, director Craig Gillespie dutifully gives us one, pulling all the final strands together in great style.

Oh, and don’t get up too soon. There’s a gentle post-credits coda that features a sly nod to Disney’s 1961 original.

I really had the lowest possible expectations for Cruella, but I’m happy to admit that I was wrong.

This film is a blast.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Nomadland

01/05/21

Disney+

In more usual circumstances, we’d have viewed all the Oscar contenders well before the night of the announcement. In these chastened times, our earliest opportunity to watch 2021’s ‘Best Film’ winner is to catch it on Disney+, the night after its release onto the mighty mouse’s streaming service. As ever we find ourselves longing for a bigger screen, but Nomadland is the kind of film that transcends such considerations. It’s an absolute joy, and in my opinion, fully worthy of its win.

It’s winter 2011 and Fern (Frances McDormand) loses her job after the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada, shuts down, due to the recession. Sixty-one years of age and recently widowed, Fern can’t afford to pay rent on a property, so she seizes upon the only option left to her. She packs up a few belongings into her little van and hits the road, looking for whatever temporary work she can get hold of along the way. She first finds a job at an Amazon fulfilment centre through the Christmas break, packing gifts for delivery, where she makes friends with fellow-worker, Linda (Linda May).

Linda tells her about a desert rendezvous in Arizona, run by a man called Bob Wells (like most of the supporting actors in this film, Bob plays himself). Longing for sunnier climes, Fern makes her way South when the Amazon work dries up and learns that are many others in her situation – elderly people who, through no fault of their own, have been cast adrift and abandoned by society. Now they are obliged to work like University students on a break, taking whatever menial work they can find – packing gifts, farming sugar beet, waiting-on in burger bars and cafes – and doing it without complaint.

Fern drifts calmly through the process, taking it all in her stride – and as she travels, the beauties of the ever-changing American landscape are revealed in a painterly style that wouldn’t look out of place in a Terrence Malick movie. Fern is a beguiling character, plucky, indomitable and self-contained. When somebody says that they’ve heard she is homeless, she replies with evident pride. ‘Oh no, I’m not homeless. Just houseless.’

Writer/director Chloé Zhao’s extraordinary film draws a line that can be traced back to the pioneers of the Old West – or perhaps, more accurately, to the migrant workers of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I have despaired of America recently, but this film serves to remind me that so many of its inhabitants have qualities to be admired – it’s just the political system that governs them that should be condemned for treating them so shoddily. And yet, unusually, this is also a film that has no real villains; indeed, pretty much everyone Fern encounters treats her respectfully, offering her help, support and comradeship.

For a time she falls in with fellow wanderer, Dave (David Strathairn), and the two of them seem to be a good fit – but when he’s offered a way out of his situation, he’d be a fool not to take it. Wouldn’t he?

Calm, thoughtful and inspiring, Nomadland is a timely reminder that we need to value the right things in life. Like the pieces of crockery Fern carries with her, gifted to her by her late father, they are just things. Once broken, they become meaningless. Perhaps they always were. Zhao’s ultimate message seems to be that the qualities we carry within us through life are more important than the baggage we acquire along the way.

And if I’m in danger of sounding like a talking fridge magnet here, please don’t be put off.

This really is a very special film.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Penguin Bloom

29/03/21

Netflix

The lockdown rolls relentlessly on, and we’re reduced to seeking out those films which, in normal times, we’d steer well clear of. Penguin Bloom is one such feature, sporting as it does a storyline that threatens to be a little too saccharine for comfort. The fact that it turns out to be a true story and – as a series of genuine photographs over the end credits proudly attests – sticks very closely to what actually happened, helps no end. So does director Glendyn Ivin’s ability to stay just the right side of mawkishness throughout. Whenever things threaten to tip over into the land of treacle, Ivin offers us a nasty flashback or a vitriolic outburst, just to make sure we appreciate the very real tragedy of the tale.

Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) and her husband, Cameron (Andrew Lincoln, making a decent fist of an Australian accent) live a carefree existence in an idyllic home somewhere in Australia, with their three sons. Cameron is a photographer by trade and Sam, when not making her own honey, is a keen surfer. But everything changes irrevocably on a family holiday to Thailand, when oldest son Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston) discovers a secluded roof garden above their hotel and leads his mother up there to take in the scenery.

However, a dodgy bit of building work quickly puts paid to all the fun and games, as Sam takes a horrific fall from the roof and winds up with a damaged spine, paralysed from the waist down.

Once back home, despite everybody’s best efforts, she fails to come to terms with her situation and, all too understandably, begins to descend into depression. Then Noah discovers a fledgling magpie that has fallen from its nest and persuades his parents to let him bring her into the house. He promptly dubs the bird Penguin (Peng for short) and it isn’t long before the creature has become a vital member of the Bloom family. Sam is at first resistant to Peng’s feathery charms, but as time moves on, she warms to her – and of course, as she works towards helping Peng to learn to fly, so Sam manages to spread her own wings…

See, that does sound horribly sentimental, doesn’t it? And perhaps, if I’m honest, there is a streak of that in here, but what the heck, this actually happened and maybe I need to cut the Blooms some slack. If there is a problem with the movie, it’s one of continuity. Peng looks markedly different in just about every shot, but as the credits eventually reveal, ten individual birds played the title role, so perhaps it isn’t exactly surprising: and, let’s face it, CGI birds never really convince, no matter how much cash you throw at them. And these stunt magpies, if rumour is to be believed, actually work for birdseed. Oh and before I forget, Sam’s mother Jan, is played by Jacki Weaver, who actually does have some authority here (see what I did there?).

Ultimately, Penguin Bloom turns out to be an agreeable way to spend an hour or so and, until cinemas finally reopen their doors, we’re going to have to keep sifting through the bowels of our streaming services in a never-ending quest to find agreeable ways for movie fans to pass their time.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Death to 2020

27/12/20

Netflix

I had thought that the hideous happenings of 2020 could never make me laugh.

I was wrong.

Charlie Brooker’s cunningly constructed mockumentary takes a long hard look at the events of this momentous year, and gleefully eviscerates them in his familiar no-holds-barred fashion. (You could argue that he’s been a little too hasty in releasing it with a few days still to go, but hey, it can’t get any worse. Can it?)

Death to 2020 takes me from wincing and cringing to laughing-out-loud time and time again. It’s the comedy equivalent of riding a roller coaster. For once, this is far less of a one-man project than we’ve come to expect from Brooker. There are no fewer than twenty writers attached to this project, and it would seem their best efforts have been cherry-picked. This is essentially a month-by-month retelling of everything that went down in the year 2020, but all viewed from a slightly skewed perspective. It works, big time.

Brooker has also enlisted considerable star-power for this special. Samuel L Jackson is Dash Bracket, focusing his ironic comments on the rise and fall of a certain Mr Trump. Hugh Grant (never funnier) is Tennyson Foss, a historian who can’t seem to differentiate between genuine history and random events from Game of Thrones. Lisa Kudrow is brilliant as Trump spokesperson Jeanetta Grace Susan, unashamedly denying the president’s heinous actions even as they unfold on video, right in front of her eyes. And Tracey Ullman is rather too convincing as Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Charlie Brooker event without the presence of Diane Morgan, and she’s here too, as Gemma Nerrick, a woman so odious that lockdown has actually worked in her favour, a viewer so overdosed on daytime TV she’s constantly muddling real events and the soaps she’s addicted to.

Of course, some will argue that we shouldn’t be laughing at the horror-show in which we’re all so inextricably mired, but I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to. Chances are, you will to.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Mank

04/12/20

Netflix

It seems I’ve been waiting for this film for just about forever. Director David Fincher first mentioned it as a possible follow up to Alien3 way back in 1992. With a screenplay by his father, Jack, it would focus on the creation of Citizen Kane. It would provide an answer to how much involvement Orson Welles actually had in the writing of that Oscar-winning screenplay and it would, of course, look into the allegations that the film was besmirched by the machinations of powerful newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst.

Was I up for this? Yes, big time, because this is a story that has fascinated me since my youth. But, as it turned out, I was going to have to be patient…

And now, in one of the bleakest years in human history, it finally turns up, virtually unannounced on Netflix. Needless to say, I don’t allow a great deal of time to elapse before I tune in.

And it’s worth the wait. This is absolutely sumptuous, oozing class from every beautiful monochromatic frame, courtesy of cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt. Here is a faultless recreation of an era, right down to the visible scene descriptions, written clickety-clackety on a manual typewriter. From the opening credits onwards, Mank puts the viewer slap-bang in the early 1940s and keeps them immersed in that turbulent era right up until the final credits.

Washed-up screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) finds himself installed in a remote desert location, shortly after suffering serious injuries in a car crash. Sternly monitored by John Houseman (Sam Troughton) and ably assisted by English secretary, Rita Alexander (Lily Collins), he has been given the daunting task of writing the debut motion picture for Mercury Theatre’s Wunderkind, Orson Welles (Tom Burke). And he has just sixty days in which to do it.

It doesn’t help that Mank (as he is known to his friends) is an alcoholic. But he sets about the task with as much vigour as he can muster and, as he writes, his mind skips back and forth (rather like the screenplay he’s working on) over his changing fortunes in the Hollywood film industry.

We encounter Mank’s hostile relationship with muck-raking press baron, Hearst (Charles Dance), his platonic friendship with Hearst’s wife, Marion Davies (an almost luminous Amanda Seyfried), and his pugilistic dealings with the extremely unlikable Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard). There’s more – much more – in a packed two hours and eleven minutes; indeed, it’s probably fair to say that this is a story as rich and multi-layered as Kane itself. It’s also surprisingly prescient. The realisation that a super-rich newspaper proprietor can exert a powerful influence over the politics of a country, even going so far as to film fake news items to help steal an election, seems like a decidedly contemporary notion… but clearly that kind of thing has been going on for decades.

The film isn’t quite perfect. A scene where Mank goes on a (very long) drunken diatribe at one of Hearst’s lavish parties stretches credulity, and there are a few leaden missteps around the middle section, but these are minor blips in something that’s a giant step up from much of the so-so fodder that gets made. Fincher has created a warm, and moving testimonial to his late father’s memory, one that deserves to stand alongside the infamous movie it commemorates. Of course, it helps if you’re a fan of Kane in the first place, but it’s by no means essential.

If you’ve a couple of hours to spare, why not spoil yourselves? This is a superb piece of cinema.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

I’m Thinking of Ending it All

14/09/20

Charlie Kaufman’s reputation for weirdness precedes him, but to my mind, he can be  inconsistent: for every Anomalisa or Being John Malkovich, there’s an Adaptation or a Synochade, New York lurking in the wings, films that – despite flashes of genuine brilliance – have a tendency to lapse into events that are just plain puzzling. And it’s somewhere in this hinterland that Kaufman’s latest offering belongs. 

If the title sounds ominous, don’t be misled. Young Woman (Jessie Buckley) is simply thinking of ending her relationship with Jake (Jesse Plemons) after six weeks of going out with him. (I can’t say I blame her: he’s a cheerless oaf, much given to scowling furiously.) Unfortunately, she has agreed to accompany him on her first visit to meet his parents, an assignation that requires a long, long drive through the falling snow. There follows a seemingly endless sequence where the two of them drive and talk and then Young Woman treats Jake to an impromptu performance of her latest poem, which goes on way, WAY longer than it needs to. I suspect this is the point, but it’s not a promising introduction to proceedings.

Then, the couple arrive at their destination, where Mother (Toni Collette) and Father (David Thewlis) are waiting to meet them. The resulting visit is so deliciously deranged that the film is suddenly eminently watchable – indeed, if the rest of it were up to this standard, we’d be talking a lot more stars. The two parents appear to be different ages every time we see them, and there are lots of parenthood issues as well as something very creepy lurking in the cellar…

But, all too soon, the protagonists are back in the car and heading homeward through the snow, where Young Woman is delivering (at length) her opinion of a much revered John Cassavetes film. This feels suspiciously like an authorial criticism, and the head of steam built up by our time spent with Jake’s parents promptly evaporates. Just as I’m thinking of ending I’m Thinking of Ending It All, Young Woman and Jake stop off at the World’s creepiest ice cream parlour, and suddenly the film is riveting all over again… 

I’ve used this analogy before but this is a real curate’s egg of a film – good in parts, sometimes much too good to be ignored – but, while the destinations featured herein are really rewarding, the seemingly interminable journeys between them are frankly on the dull side.

The film is right there on Netflix, ready to view at the touch of a button, but be warned, your patience may be tested.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Pinocchio

13/09/20

Pinocchio has long been a bit of a touchstone story for me. I saw the Disney version when I was a kid and was deliciously terrified by it – indeed, I still consider it to be Walt’s masterpiece. My own novel, Mr Sparks, was an unashamed riff on Carlo Collodi’s original story and, like many, I’m eagerly awaiting Guillermo del Toro’s live action version of the tale, though it’s anybody’s guess when that might arrive. In the meantime, here’s Matteo Garrone’s interpretation, and it’s certainly arresting enough to keep me happy while I’m waiting for Guillermo to get his act together. 

Garrone’s Pinocchio is suitably dark and makes no bones about the poverty afflicting most of the characters. In this downbeat version of the story, Geppeto (Roberto Benigni) has been reduced to begging for scraps of food and, when he asks a local carpenter for an off-cut of wood, so he can make himself the son he’s never had, he’s fobbed off with a log that seems unable to stay in one place for more than two minutes.

Soon enough, Geppetto has crafted the wood into Pinocchio (Federico Lelapi), who – like his progenitor – doesn’t seem happy to sit around and do what’s expected of him. He’s soon racing recklessly off across the countryside, where he encounters Gatto (Rocco Papaleo) and Volpe (Massino Cecchari), two conniving rapscallions, who set about swindling the boy out of the only bit of money he has.

And of course, there’s the Blue Fairy, played by Alida Baldari Calabria in her youth and Marine Vacth in her older incarnation.

Sticking fairly close to Collodi’s original, Garrone offers a darkly magical tale, which unfolds at a leisurely pace, blessed with the handsome cinematography of Nicolai Bruel – but parents take heed, the film’s PG certificate isn’t just there for fun and there are some scenes that may upset younger viewers, particularly a lengthy sequence where the wooden boy is hanged. But older kids and their parents will have a good time.

There’s no CGI in evidence, but the ingenious mechanical effects are superbly done, especially the delightful invention of a woman who is essentially a giant snail, leaving a slippery trail in her wake. The film has been dubbed into English, but I won’t hold that against it. With such lean pickings on offer at the cinema, this is certainly one worth catching.

And best of all, there’s not a jolly singalong in sight.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Les Miserables

08/09/20

This is not, as you might reasonably have expected, a musical featuring people in period costume running around Paris and warbling endlessly about the French revolution. This Palme D’or Jury winner is a gritty, contemporary drama, set in Montfermeil where Victor Hugo penned his most famous novel. It’s now been transformed into an edgy, crime-ridden neighbourhood where drugs and prostitution are rife and where different cultures struggle for supremacy.

New cop on the block, Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) finds himself teamed with veteran twosome, Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djibril Zonga) and his first day on the job becomes a brutal schooling in the art of bending the rules. Chris and Gwada have established their own way of doing things and it’s made very clear from the get-go, that Stéphane is expected to fall into line. But when hard-knock kid Issa (Issa Perica) steals a lion cub from a travelling circus, he unwittingly sparks off a whole series of events that threaten to erupt into violence on a major scale.

Writer/director Ladj Ly rarely puts a foot wrong here. He’s careful to ensure that nobody is allowed to become a total villain, just as surely as nobody is picked out as a hero. The entire cast of Les Miserables exist somewhere in a twilight hinterland somewhere in between the two. These are people trying to keep their heads above water in a hard-bitten world that takes no prisoners; and when the young black gangs that haunt the area feel compelled to rise up in a revolution of their own, it’s hard not to sympathise with their plight. They represent a strata of society that are being punished for just daring to exist.

As Ly steadily cranks up the heat beneath his characters, so the tension rises and the story exert an increasingly powerful grip, until it all explodes into a cataclysmic – and brilliantly judged – crescendo.

This is incendiary stuff that will have you gripped from start to finish.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney