Based on the real-life story written by Bernard Hare, Urban and The Shed Crew is the perfect example of how a low budget film, shot entirely on location and using local cast and crew, can be more heartfelt and honest than its Hollywood counterpart. Writer/director Candida Brady explores the issue of children living at the margins of society with almost a documentary-like eye – having previously directed the documentary Trashed – and packs it with lots of charm without being over-sentimental. Seen through the child-eyes of protagonist Urban we witness some pretty grim realities which reminds us that these problems aren’t just the work of fiction but exist in our modern world.
Urban Grimshaw (Fraser Kelly) was born in prison; his mother Greta (Anna Friel) is a junkie; his father might as well be dead. Aged 11, Urban can’t read or write and his days are wasted hours infused with drugs and alcohol. His gang is a merry company of fellow care-home runaways, thieves and generally turbulent kids. Their future prospects seem bleak, until Urban introduces them to his new friend: Chop (Richard Armitage) a 37 year old, reckless ex-social worker. Chop will try his best to bring some normality back to the lives of Urban and his Shed Crew, but the harsh realities of the world may very well be against him.
The film is brilliantly acted by Anna Friel, Richard Armitage and Fraser Kelly, in his first feature role. The Kelly-Armitage duo is particularly good, with the debutant often stealing scenes from his more established co-star. Brady manages to capture an honest portrait of kids dealing with problems no one should have to face. However, despite the grimness of it all, the film is not without moments of humour, and the kids are far from passive victims – Chop mentions The Lord Of The Flies as an example of how incredibly cruel they can be to each other. The shady setting of Leeds, with the rundown estates and wastelands, perfectly encapsulates the film, for, under all the grit, there is also hope and beauty. The shed where Urban and his crew gather is a place of real wonder, perhaps the only place where we see the kids being kids – there is a truly beautiful scene in which Chop tells the story of King Arthur to the awestruck group. The cinematography by Peter Field also adds to the wondrous tone, with a constantly hazy-dull look, interspersed with vibrant colours here and there.
Despite all the humour and the lighter moments there is also a sense of overbearing catastrophe – the lives of these children are hanging by a thread. For some, their futures have already been decided the moment they were born and change is but a mirage. It’s a horrifying reality. Chop continually tries to shine a light upon their lives by being there for them, trying his hardest – other adult figures are entirely absent. This doesn’t mean that he is a saint. In fact, far from it. The beauty lies in the fact that, in order to survive, Urban needs Chop just as much as Chop needs him, so, when we see the man hit his lowest point, it’s the child’s influence that brings him back to his feet.
This otherwise charming film occasionally stumbles with a lagging pace, especially at the beginning. Some scenes seem to repeat themselves, taking away some of the tension. Yet Urban and The Shed Crew is a small but heartfelt film about a live and present problem in the UK and abroad. With strong performances throughout, this is a little film with a big heart.
Urban and the Shed Crew screened at the Leeds International Film Festival and is currently without a UK distributor. In the meantime you can visit the official website, and the charity Action for Children, which supported the film.