Somers Town, the new movie by Shane Meadows, director of the acclaimed This Is England, opens across the UK next week. On the surface it looks like a typically British movie, a gritty tale of urban life and friendship set on the streets near King’s Cross Station. However there is something that sets this film apart, and it comes from how it was developed, and, more keenly, how it was funded.
The film is the first release from a new division set up by Mother advertising agency, Mother Vision, which aims to create “entertainment ideas and non-traditional communications”, and it was funded by Eurostar, as part of the promotion for the UK’s first high speed rail service, which runs from the new St Pancras station. “They were interested in marking the occasion with a piece of communication that had more longevity than perhaps a traditional ad campaign, something that could be enjoyed long after the station opened,” says Mother.
“Brands are in a position – like never before – to connect or build relationships in more interesting ways,” they continue. “If we can tell genuinely entertaining stories that are authentic to the brand’s core values then it’s good news for everyone – brands find an audience, and that audience is entertained.”
Somers Town has no overt Eurostar branding – the poster advertising the film only mentions the company in the small print, and there are no logos on display in the opening credits of the movie. Yet the station and the train forms an integral part of the story.
The film opens with the arrival of Tommo, a young runaway from Nottingham who arrives at King’s Cross knowing no-one. He rapidly gets mugged, losing his money and bag, but, surprisingly undeterred, strikes up a friendship with Marek, a Polish teenager whose father is working on the rebuild of St Pancras station. From then on the film becomes a buddy movie, with the two boys vying for the attentions of a young French waitress working in a King’s Cross cafe, and generally trying to find ways to make some quick cash. There are some rich themes here – immigration, runaways, surviving and finding ways to thrive in London’s urban gloom – yet Meadows approaches them with a light, at times almost whimsical touch.
Towards its end (Spoiler Alert!!), the film, which is until this point shot in stark black-and-white, suddenly adopts colour, when the boys travel to Paris on the train in search of the French waitress who has returned to her home town. It is possible that this is meant to be a dream sequence, and the grainy Super-8 feel certainly looks nostalgic. Either way, it is an optimistic, uplifting end to the film.
It also, of course, plays well for Eurostar, as does an earlier scene when Tommo and Marek look out from the tower block where Marek lives and remark on the beauty of the new station, in construction below them. Despite this, Meadows was apparently given free reign to make the movie he wanted to make without corporate interference, and the movie certainly also has the Meadows stamp upon it.
It is easy to have a knee-jerk cynical reaction to this and accuse Mother and Eurostar of sneaky advertising tricks. Yet it would be naïve to think that the movie industry as a whole exists above such commercial tactics, after all product placement has existed almost as long as cinema itself. And ultimately a good film has been made, which has already garnered awards and rave reviews. Perhaps the key to this was Mother’s intelligent choice of working with Meadows – a director who has an audience of fans in the UK who will be interested to see a new film by him, regardless of how it was produced.
The benefits for Eurostar remain to be seen. Outside of blogs such as these, the brand’s involvement has been less trumpeted, and there have been reviews where it is not mentioned at all. Yet the movie demonstrates that such overt branding is not always necessary – we all know that it is Eurostar that operates the train between London and Paris that Tommo and Marek travel on, so we do not need the brand name shoved down our throats, in fact it would be a detriment to it if it was.
The success of the film also places Eurostar in the position of potentially being a brand that could grow to be seen as a patron of British cinema, offering funding to an industry that is always strapped for cash. This would require further investment of course, plus the even braver step of backing films that might contain no mention of trains at all. As it is, Mother and Meadows have managed to pull off a surprisingly difficult trick – making a film that is credible and watchable, which also serves as 85-minute ad.