This Town

Steven Knight's latest drama fuses art and anarchy in 1980s Britain, with sensitive performances and a cool soundtrack.

Having the name Steven Knight on a new British drama is enough to make many drama connosieurs sit up and take notice.

After all his shows Peaky Blinders, Rogue Heroes and Taboo have all attracted serious audiences. This Town, is likely to do the same, albeit cut from a much different cloth.

It is 1981 in Birmingham, nearby Coventry and Belfast. There are race riots in Birmingham housing estates during the Thatcher years, and IRA uprisings in Belfast.

Dante (Levi Brown) is an aspiring black poet coming of age in a time of crisis. He has a head full of words in a cold, industrial city where walking the street can mean stumbling into a riot where police beat you to a pulp because of the colour of your skin…

“You look like somebody who could be somebody,” his friend Jeannie (Eve Austin) says.

“I want to be somebody…. I want to be a poet,” Dante replies.

Meanwhile in Coventry, dancer Bardon (Ben Rose) is collared by his bully Irish father (Peter McDonald) into shady acts which help finance the IRA but which also test their relationship. Bardon wants nothing to do with the fight against British rule, but his father expects his son to step up.

“I want to be my own man, Dad,” says Bardon.

A third principal character is Gregory (Jordan Bolger), a British sergeant fighting the uprisings in Belfast. In the middle of anarchy on the streets he hears birds singing, and wants warring factions to turn to music -reactions wild enough to see him considered for psychological consultation until a major incident unexpectedly links all three men together….

The pursuit of music from the dark corners of despair is one of This Town‘s best attributes. There’s a quirky soundtrack, juxtaposed with some creative cinematography.

The real skill is in the fragile relationships sensitively directed by Paul Whittington, drawing some magical moments from a gifted ensemble. Levi Brown is particularly captivating as the ambitious poet Dante, while Jordan Bolger is fiercely strong as Gregory.

But there are some rather wonderful supporting performances too -wait for Michelle Dockery as an alcoholic, chain-smoking mother down on her luck. It’s likely to land her some nominations I expect. David Dawson also plays an enigmatic nightclub manager and crime boss, Robbie Carmen.

This Town doesn’t always move with a driving pace, but the mix of art and anarchy leaves you feeling like you are watching a rough diamond being formed on screen.

This Town double episode 9:25pm Wednesday on SBS.

Leave a Reply