Jon Dudley discusses the career of British writer-director Nick Love…
On September 18th this year, a new film about football hooligans will be hitting cinema screens nationwide… The Firm. It is a loose adaptation of an original film written by Al Ashton, and the 2009 release sees Nick Love at the helm. Some of you will be thinking “ah Nick Love, The Football Factory guy… isn’t this bordering on seen-it-before material?” Maybe it is, maybe not so much. One way to investigate is to take a look at Nick Love’s film career…
Although he touches on familiar themes within his films (friendship, loyalty, pride), they vary in content. Love’s first recognised film was a short entitled ‘Love Story’. It focuses on Dave and his partner Sharon who live in near poverty who have just had their first born. It includes familiar issues seen in all of Love’s movies to date – drug use, dodgy cockney ‘geezers’ and easy girls. I for one was particularly shocked at the last shot of the film, Dave, his right hand man and Sharon taking class A drugs whilst one of them is holding the baby. That was perhaps the most emotional part of the film for me, and purely because of the situation the baby was helplessly dragged into. In terms of characters it is clear what Love was trying to do, establish characters that portrayed their back stories by the way they acted, and for the most part he did that successfully, however I did not really feel an emotional attachment to any of them.
Love followed Love Story by writing the adaptation from novel to screen of French drama Mauvaise Passe (1999), which in English means The Escort. Then came his debut feature – a film based on themes such as loyalty and friendship – Goodbye Charlie Bright (2001). I first saw this film after I had seen The Football Factory and The Business, but it is clear that Nick Love has taken many aspects from his debut with him throughout his career. Witty dialogue and the ability to create genuine characters that the audience can relate to (something he must have worked on a lot since Love Story) made Goodbye Charlie Bright a very good film. Jo Berry, a film critic for Empire magazine says “As a debut effort, this is great stuff” and she really isn’t wrong.
The characters in Love’s debut are recognisable. You will be watching it and be thinking to yourself “that character reminds me of…” – this obviously adds to the realistic feel of the film and also to the audience’s enjoyment. The appeal of the film is also how it handles the ‘coming-of-age’ aspect – Charlie clearly has something about him (namely charisma, charm and an instant likability) that could allow him to move on from the estate which occupies his life but his best and lifelong friend Justin keeps holding him back. The interior conflict he suffers because of this is I’m sure something a fair few teenagers out there can relate to.
Then came a cult British classic… The Football Factory (2004). Based on the John King novel, Love turned this story about football hooligans and rival ‘firms’ into one of the most popular British films of the last decade. Featuring a cast of Nick Love regular Danny Dyer, Frank Harper and Tamer Hassan, The Football Factory has become a favourite with audiences – DVD sales alone in the U.K are reaching towards the 2million mark.
The Football Factory is about two rival firms (representing Millwall and Chelsea) that eventually meet head to head in what turns out to be a fatal battle for pride and victory. For those of you reading this that haven’t seen this film I will not reveal all but say that the ending really hooked me in and I felt emotionally drained as the credits started rolling. Although I felt a slight emotional tweak at the end of Love Story, and indeed a far more happier one at the conclusion of Goodbye Charlie Bright, it was clear as soon as The Football Factory ended that Love was able to create emotionally engaging characters and tense drama in his films. And he then went on to create one of my favourite British film characters in his next project.
The Business (2005) was Love’s follow up to The Football Factory. Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan teamed up with him again to produce yet another cult classic on the British film circuit – and creating one of my favourite characters, “the Kid” Frankie. At the start of the film Frankie says, “My old man wrote me a letter from prison once. It said if you don’t want to end up in here, stay away from crime, women and drugs”. Then, after the film has played out, Frankie repeats this then ends it with “…well what a load of bollocks that turned out to be. I tried them all, and won, and drove off into the sunset”. It was at that point I realised that Frankie was ‘The Man’! A friend of mine even based his wardrobe for his summer holiday to Ibiza on Frankie’s gear in the film – which mainly consisted on white old-skool Fila garms!
The film itself, and not just Frankie, is a delight from start to finish. It has been compared to American classic Scarface because of the similar story arcs, and Nick Love directly acknowledges that with a shot of a palm tree against a sunset that then turns out to be a painting – referencing the same shot used in Scarface. Again strong willed cockney wide-boys feature heavily, and look to dominate the drug import/export links in the Costa-Del-Sol. Some critics have said that Danny Dyer can only play one dimensional cockney gangster characters, and I can see where they are coming from when they say this, but again a certain X-factor (similar to what Paul Nicholls’ Charlie had in Goodbye Charlie Bright) makes you instantly warm to his character in this film. It is now at this point in his career that I feel Nick Love knew his skills and was at the top of his game – creating stories and characters that appealed to wide British audiences and involved the viewers more.
Two years later, Love wrote and directed Outlaw, linking up with Danny Dyer for a third time in three successive films. This film again featured lots of violence and gangs of people standing up for what they believe in. Love yet again creates very passionate characters, something of a clear trait of his; characters that have a belief and want to fight for it too. Gang and friendship loyalty are at the forefront of the characters minds, just like in The Football Factory, and I’m sure we will be seeing that in The Firm when it hits cinemas next month…
The Firm follows Dom (Calum McNab), who fast becomes involved in the fierce rivalry between different football firms. However when he has a change of heart and wants no more, it proves to be a situation that’s easier to get in to than out of. Which leads me back to a point I made at the start of this article – is this one of those ‘been there, done that’ situations? There is only one way to find out. The Firm is released September 18th. And yes it features many similar aspects as The Football Factory, but surely Nick Love wouldn’t repeat himself… would he? I will be going to see this film, I encourage you to do the same.
Jon Dudley is a freelance film and television journalist and his 17-minute short film Justification was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.