Jamie Thraves’ third low-budget feature film, Treacle Jr, is an uncommercial but oddly memorable effort, shot mostly in exotic Dulwich and Herne Hill, South London.
It’s about a depressed, middle-class architect Tom (Tom Fisher) who abandons his wife, baby and career and starts sleeping rough, only to become adopted by a kindly, childlike and deeply annoying Irish layabout Aidan (Aidan Gillen) and introduced to his violent, manipulative girlfriend Linda (Riann Steele).
Jamie Thraves has had a tough time since his grittily promising 2000 debut The Low Down. His follow-up, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s thriller The Cry of the Owl, went theatrically unreleased after a sharp lack of critical support. He had to remortgage his own house to get Treacle Jr. made, but it was worth it: a thoughtful tale of mid-life crisis and the comfort of strangers, it’s gruff, funny and stealthily poignant, with a handmade sincerity you’d struggle to fake.
This is London…think again. Character Tom travels to London and is soon injured, penniless and sleeping rough. Only one person takes an interest…a fellow called Aidan, who could hardly mean better, but comes at you with the kind of wild, gurning oversolicitousness that prompts instant thoughts of flight. The gangly Tom tries to leg it while his new-found companion relieves himself in a graveyard, but Aidan is a human boomerang…you can’t get rid of him.
Gillen’s performance as this manic nutcase, his face permanently flecked with enthusiastic spittle, is a head-turning tour de force, both yucky and irrepressible. Still, the subtler heavy lifting is done by Fisher (The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz), an underused actor of spooky charisma, usually given the oddball roles himself. Aidan’s living arrangements, meaning his daily abuse at the hands of malign girlfriend Linda, threaten to tip the movie in the wrong direction, cementing the men’s improvised friendship by putting the blame on Mame, so to speak. But even if these scenes wobble, there’s so much here that’s peculiar and alive, convincing and consoling. On a DIY budget or not, it’s great to have Thraves back.
The film is so light on back story, character development and relevance to the way most of us lead our lives that I can’t imagine it having any impact on the box office.
Younger ones may see similarities with the irrepressible Donkey first irritating, then cheering up the moody ogre in Shrek.
Fisher has so few clues to a personality to work with, that he performs a small miracle in making the gloomy Tom consistently watchable, while Gillen (also excellent in the little-seen Wake Wood and last seen as an out-and-out villain in Blitz) confirms he is one of the most charismatic young actors in British cinema.
by Helena Bryanlith