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DVD Review: Awaydays (2009)

Awaydays1

Awaydays was one of those books that became a huge cult hit in the late 90s, primarily via word of mouth and through people who don't usually read (if you know what I mean). The movie version (by all accounts) has been in the offing more or less since the book launched, but didn't really get the go-ahead until Control made its mark at the box office. So was it worth the wait? Well, yes it was, with one or two reservations.

if you haven't read the book (why not?), Awaydays isn't the 'footie thug fiction' you might be expecting. Yes, football violence is at the centre of Awaydays' universe, but it's about much more than that. Set in the pivotal year of 1979 (the year of the Conservatives return to power, the tail-end of punk, the dawn of post punk, the arrival of the mod revival, the arrival of the casual etc etc), it covers football, gang culture, music, relationships and quite simply, growing up in a working class town, specifically on Merseyside - and specifically focusing on a young lad called (Paul) Carty.

Awaydays2

Carty is an outsider. He's well-educated and he's hip to new music, but he's retreated into himself after the death of his mother. He wants to feel part of something and at Tranmere Rovers' Prenton Park he sees 'The Pack', a group of hooligans at the cutting edge of casual fashion. He wants to be one of them, he wants to dress like them - and he wants the thrill of battling on a Saturday afternoon.

He finds the way in via Elvis, the one member of the gang with a mind of his own - and when they meet at legendary music club Eric's, these opposites are attracted by a love of all that's cool in music. Carty wants in with the pack just as much as Elvis wants out, but eventually, Elvis relents and gives Carty what he wants. It's the beginning of the end of their friendship - as the thrills of the Saturday afternoon battles break the bond between Carty and Elvis.

It's always hard to judge a film against a book, because, let's be honest, 105 minutes of big screen action is hardly going to replicate any novel worth its salt in exact detail. Awaydays is no exception. Thankfully, the screenplay is the work of Kevin Sampson, so we get most of the main themes, even if we don't quite get enough of the characters and background behind them.

But what we do get is some superb period detail (it really could be '79), detail in terms of the clobber, detail in terms of the music (the slightly obscure post punk soundtrack is superb) and some decent performances from Nicky Bell as Carty, Stephen Graham as 'elderly' Pack leader John Godden and especially Liam Boyle as the sexually and morally ambiguous Elvis. A more hip screen character you'll struggle to find all year. If you're a fan of a big-screen punch-up, you'll probably enjoy the vicious footie scuffles too, soundtracked immaculately of course.

On the downside, there isn't enough of the music side of things for me, Carty doesn't really have the 'swagger' of the book version and for that matter, we don't really get the 'class' difference between art school drop out Carty and the Pack that's such a big part of the novel. The Pack itself is a bit faceless too - we don't have any insight into where they came from, who Godden is and why 'Baby' hates him so much. More questions than answers you might say.

All of which takes it down a couple of notches, but not enough to stop me recommending it. If you have an interest in any of the key reference points of Awaydays, you'll enjoy it - and you'll probably go and dig out some early Ultravox (John Foxx-era) or Echo and the Bunnymen the day after. The DVD has some tasty extras too, with some background to both the movie and the culture. But if you want real background, read the book too - that's a bona fide classic.

Find out more at the Amazon website

Comments

Robster

Great film. Agree that the music could have been more pronounced and about the lack of class difference. Would add the cameo performance of The Rascals, featuring Miles Kane, as Echo and The Bunnymen. Also recommend one of Sampson's other novels - Stars Are Stars - which covers the same art school area and leads into the Toxteth riot.

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