On Sunday, 8th November, I was fortunate enough to attend the screening of Urban and the Shed Crew at the Hyde Park Picture House. (And, a week later, I’ve edited my review. Some points needed expanding.)

A few admissions before I begin:

  • I am not originally from Leeds. Hell, I’m not even British, but I’ve been here long enough to understand the issues presented in the film. This means, however, that some of the cultural subtleties are almost lost on me. (References to different areas of Leeds, and the reactions of the audience to the difference between growing up in Beeston and growing up in Bramley are still a mystery to me; even though I know there’s a difference, I wouldn’t know how to begin to articulate it.) I would worry that if this film goes global, not all the references will be relevant to a global audience. This cultural niche will have to be addressed somehow.
  • I generally prefer books to their film versions. This one is no exception. Issues like substance abuse and sexual activity presented in Hare’s book are difficult to comprehend and shocking because of the age of the children involved. And because of protection issues in working with young actors, these issues could only be hinted at, not portrayed. I think (and this is only my opinion) that the film version suffered from the omission.
  • I am not a professional film critic or reviewer.

I enjoyed the film. Not as much as the book, but that is down to the constraints of the medium. Films naturally must move quickly and do not have the same luxury for character development or discussion of motivation that books do. And Candida Brady had quite a lot of material to work with, to distill down to its essence and present on-screen. Some things may have been missed, but she got what mattered most. The soundtrack was haunting and beautiful throughout, and did not overwhelm the scenes but added to them. At times, especially in the early parts of the film, the pacing is awkward; encounters between Greta and Chop should have possessed greater tension, but fizzled at times, and her explosive responses did not fit with the preceding scenes. This may be down to editing choices.

Overall, the performances from Armitage, Friel and Kelly were nuanced and dynamic, bringing these main players to vivid life for the audience. The film highlighted the fragile balance of Chop’s own equilibrium as Greta and Urban pushed and pulled him with their own volatile natures. Chop suffers when Greta is involved, but he flourishes as Urban becomes more important in his life. Further exploration of Urban’s own anger and rage could have helped to illustrate how his environment has shaped him, and to highlight further how important the role Chop plays in creating a stable centre for Urban.

The Shed Crew themselves provide a stark backdrop of the hopelessness. Their shed is a precious safe place, cherished and cared for, with its fairy lights and bright colours, set in a brown burnt-out back garden. I think that the film didn’t emphasise the shed’s importance enough, and how Chop’s flat becomes their safe haven when the shed is forbidden to them.

Throughout the film, you must keep reminding yourself – this is not fiction. Something inside you will resist it – surely no one can live that way? This is the reality of East Leeds in the 1990s, and this is not a purely British issue. Children suffer in more ways than we could ever conceive. And as Hare says, childhood should be sacred.

This is a big story with a big message that needs to be heard.