Warning: there be spoilers ahead!
Last weekend I got a copy of the Awaydays DVD from Lovefilm, a film I'd been looking forward to seeing. I read the book two or three years ago, and I'd been really impressed. It shouldn't have appealed to me. It follows Carty, a nineteen year old lad trapped in a tedious job at the Inland Revenue who peps up his weekends by through acts of unpleasant hooliganism. The novel is filled with intensely described violence, committed by a character who clearly loves and enjoys the thrill of the battle.
Yet Kevin Sampson, as a writer, takes you inside Carty's head and helps you to understand who he is, and where he is going. The novel's partly based on his own experiences, and the realities and truths of nearing the end of your teens in the late seventies and falling in with a world of anger and pain and friendship really rang true. It helped that the novel is so specifically set on the Wirral, giving an extra frisson; it's one thing to read about a character living in a boho flat, it's another for it to be named as Reedville, a few hundred yards from my front door.
Awaydays the film sadly can't match up to the novel's visceral power, even though Sampson wrote the screenplay. It falls into the trap of depicting a violent, grubby world, but making it exciting and something you want to be a part of. This isn't a judgement on my part; on the contrary, the novel also makes the world of The Pack (as the hooligans are known) seem as thrilling as an army battalion. However, in the novel we can understand Carty and where he's going, and what he's getting out of the experience; in the film he fails as an interesting leading man, and becomes a blank. We're not seeing it through his eyes, so it becomes less involving. He's totally overshadowed by his mate Elvis, who admittedly was more interesting in the book too, but here dominates the screen in a great performance by Liam Boyle.
There's still the local interest though, as the film was made on the Wirral. It lead to a great deal of exclamations in our house, as we tried to work out where they were: "It's Hamilton Square!" "It's the Cavern!" "It's the front at New Brighton!".
The one time they step off the peninsular is to use the East Lancs Railway, for the very good reason that they could supply genuine old trains for the production. We get many a beauty pass of the old diesel pulling away from the platform, if you like that sort of thing. In the novel, this is meant to be Birkenhead North, and is symbolic of the difference between Carty and the other members of the pack. For them, Birkenhead North is "their" station, the one nearest their homes in the depressed North End of Birkenhead. For Carty however, it's very different; it's the station he uses to get home to Parkgate. The class differences are barely touched on in the film, but in the novel they're explored much more deeply, as Carty is a character who conceals his privileged home from his new mates.
Ironically, Birkenhead North then turns up for real, later in the film, except it's meant to be somewhere else. I say somewhere else because the film is, by necessity, extremely vague about who the football teams involved are. At no point does the word "Tranmere" pass anyone's lips, and the odd football scarf on show is blandly generic (red and white stripes, that kind of thing).
Birkenhead North therefore becomes Town X, and is given period specific posters to seal the deal. The station's architecture fits in with the bleak, end-of-days feel that pervades the film: it's a brutal, functional brick station, with high metal fences, and surrounded by waste land. It's the scene for a bloody confrontation between The Pack and the locals, and Carty gets beaten in the street outside before he fights back with a Stanley knife.
We don't get much of a look at other stations on the network; we're back at Bury Bolton Street for any further train scenes, but that's a lovely looking booking hall. It also provides an intriguing moment for me: in one scene, Carty dashes down to the platform and passes a bunch of vintage posters which have been used to give it that Merseyside ambience. Prominent, centre of the screen, is one for the Liverpool Overground.
Overground? First I've heard of it - unless this was a fake knocked up by the art department specially.
Naturally, the film can't end well, and it's another point where the book and film diverge. In the book, Carty begins to become tired of the Pack; we feel like he's maturing and growing out of the hooligan scene. In the film, it seems as though the Pack deserts him, rather than the other way round. The leader is killed, and replaced by a lad who has disliked Carty from the start. The Pack defeat another bunch of supporters, and then the lad turns on Carty and does this:
which, you know, doesn't go down well. I didn't get the same feeling of his journey as I did in the book, and I came away disappointed.
The Bf, on the other hand, really enjoyed it, so perhaps it's one of those times when you miss what's been left out from the book when you see the film. There's a lot of good things about it - it's very well directed by Pat Holden, and there are a number of good performances in smaller roles.
Or perhaps I just soured to it because of this:
That's the last moments of the film, when the poignancy and regret of the scene was ruined for me by TWO yellow and grey Merseyrail trains going past. 1979? My arse.