Friday, 11 January 2008

SHOTGUNS IN ESSEX


One of the best British crime dramas in recent years came steaming into our shops at the fag-end of 2007, in the form of a very smart 2 disc DVD. RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER repays multiple viewings with its no-holds barred account of the infamous Range Rover murders, centering on the bloody escapades of Carlton Leach. Disc 1 features a splendid commentary track from director Julian Gilbey and his brother, co-writer William, holding forth on the making of their film. Their talk really is a pleasure to listen to as they duly highlight some terrific performances; explain their choices regarding cast selection, and are honest enough to acknowledge a handful of scenes which slightly deviate from the true story. The majority, of course, is based on solid fact, making this film even more powerful. The pair also - quite rightly - take their critics to task, quoting from reviews by writers who couldn't (or didn't want to) understand exactly where the film was coming from. Optimum Pictures were well aware of the impending backlash from the UK broadsheets (and certain tabloid papers) and warned the Gilbey's it would be a tough ride, but the people who really count went to the cinemas and purchased the DVD, proving that Joe Public doesn't listen to a bunch of elitist writers.Here, Gilbey proves himself to be an intelligent director who goes to painstaking lengths to ensure authenticity. It's worth pointing out that Julian discounts one of the theories included in the RASHOMON-style finale regarding police involvement, though he does reveal why many people at the time believed this possible. I'll leave you to check out the commentary to hear why this belief surfaced. I came out of this sitting with increased respect for their accomplishment, and went straight into the 2nd disc where the top-notch featurette was waiting. 'Filming The Footsoldier' (77 mins) tells us damn near everything we need to know about the making-of process, with input from cast and crew. As you would expect, praise from both sides of the camera is forthcoming, but instead of the usual guff, there's genuine respect in the air. Leach was lucky to enlist the services of some prime actors who perfectly suited their gritty roles, and the cast were amazed by Leach's attention to detail which perfectly captured the mood and scenery of the 3 decades in question. The football scenes in particular were just like being taken back in time, with not a frame looking out of place. The disc also contains some 29 minutes of deleted and extending scenes. With the exception of a road rage incident involving Leach and his meeting with Turkish mobsters, there's nothing here which would have improved the film but it's interesting to see what was left out of the final cut. Of greater value is the inclusion of audition clips, and watching Rici Harnett and Coralie Rose taking raw, formative steps is an education. For me, this DVD would be incomplete without the presence of the man himself, and Optimum have thoughtfully arranged for a 21 minute video interview with Carlton Leach. Here, Leach tells how his book was translated into film as he slowly came to trust the Gilbey's and shook off his initial negative response to the casting of Harnett. Leach looks on the film as a documentary of his life and while he's not shy to highlight areas he felt could have been better, he does feel that the film is a major success. It's crystal clear the film also opened up a lot of old wounds, and Leach expresses the hope that one day the truth will come out: It's a chilling thought indeed that even the murdered trio may not know the indentity's of their killers.

RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER has everything that a DVD should have. Great documentary, articulate commentary track and input from an informed collaborator. It's also destined to be a major cult movie for many years to come. True stories are not always covered with such honesty and realism, so it's refreshing to see that someone has the brass balls to do exactly that. Oh yes, and Gilbey reveals that he'd like to tackle the Horror genre at some point in the future!

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