Dead Man’s Shoes18
To follow up his 2002 romantic comedy Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, British filmmaker Shane Meadows went in a very different direction with this dark, unflinching drama in 2004.
Loosely based on events that took place in his own childhood, Meadows delves into the psyche of a soldier hell bent on revenge.
Having been a soldier on tour meant that Richard (Paddy Considine) spent some time away from his younger brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell). This wouldn’t have been an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that Anthony was mentally-challenged, which led to him being severely taken advantage of by some locals, forcing him to take some drugs.
Richard isn’t best pleased about how his younger brother was mistreated, and decides to pay each and every one involved a visit and make his feelings known about what they did to his brother.
Not only was this one of the darkest films in tone up until this point in Meadow’s film journey, but still remains so within his filmography. It was a film he co-wrote with his star Considine, who has appeared in three of the director's films, and who has a habit of working regularly with his actors.
It’s a film that sees Meadows pull off a balancing act, between a number of northern characters who come across as pretty harmless for the most part and who are quite entertaining, with the threatening presence of Richard, who is all consumed by rage for what was done to his brother. He pulls it off too, for the most part, with the lighter moments certainly needed to prevent the film’s full decent into darkness.
The film also sees a remarkable debut from Kebbell, who gives a stunning performance, especially when you consider he only got the role when the initial actor for the part dropped out last minute with concerns about playing someone with a mental disorder. Kebbell has since gone on to carve out a varied career that has seen him impress in Hollywood, making him one of the most underrated British actors of his generation.
The same could be said of its star Considine too, whose remarkable talent hasn’t been fully appreciated on a global stage nearly as much as it should have been thus far in his career. His turn in the recent House of the Dragon series has gone some way to rectify that, but his raw gift for acting certainly deserves more. His role here is particularly impressive, coming across as almost having multiple personalities, with one half being friendly and easy going, and the other, in the words of his character, a monster.
It also saw the debut for another actor in Jo Hartley, who went on to be a Meadows regular.
Meadows is a director that has concentrated all his projects in the UK, specifically up North like. It seems odd that considering his abilities behind the camera at storytelling, that an offer from Hollywood hasn’t tempted him. Maybe there has been no offer, which would be a surprise, or maybe he just chooses to ignore them, which seems would be more his style.
In fact he’s not the most prolific of directors, with his last film being the music documentary The Stone Roses: Made of Stone in 2013, with only nine films released in total. He has of course dabbled with TV, such as the This is England spin-off shows, and his recent historical drama The Gallows Pole for the BBC. With his work predominately character-based, TV is still a great medium for him, but as this film illustrates, more of Meadows on the big screen would be preferred.
Dead Man’s Shoes is an example of Meadows flexing his directing skills during the middle of his career, and exploring themes of violence he had yet to visit. The result is fascinating, albeit a little harrowing , as he doesn’t hold back from the portrayal of a man very much on a mission.
Despite being shot on a shoestring budget, and filmed over a few weeks, Meadows proves here that he gets the very best out of his talent, and that he isn’t afraid to delve that little deeper into the darker recesses of his characters with stunning results.