Sus was on the TV again last night. I'd seen it before, but it's a film I like so I thought I'd watch it again, staying up til gone 1am for the privilege. I'm glad I did.
Sus is a savage, harrowing and occasionally blackly comic polemic from The Long Good Friday scriptwriter Barrie O'Keefe regarding the controversial Sus laws.
The play was written in the year it is set, 1979, a lost Play For Today that details, on the night Maggie Thatcher was swept into office, one young black man's wrongful arrest and interrogation regarding the death of his wife by two coppers who would give Jack Regan and Gene Hunt nightmares; a case of psychological bad cop/bad cop.
In 2010 this film version was mounted to chime with O'Keefe's fears for the country in light of another newly installed Tory government. One would hope that the horrors of Sus - so strikingly depicted in the film here - are a thing of the past, but the resonances are still here; the law has been repealed but in the post 9/11 landscape, anti-terrorism laws allow suspects to be detained on similar flimsy evidence, and as the closing caption of the film states, a young black male is seven times more likely to be stopped on this law than anyone else.
The film, like most theatrical adaptations, never loses its stage trappings but the setting is so claustrophobic that it actually benefits the piece. A tense and engrossing three hander between Clint Dyer, Ralph Brown and Rafe Spall, it is fantastically acted with perhaps Dyer and Brown getting the best parts, with Spall - good as he is - playing the sniggering muscle. Dyer is especially effective and utterly empathic as the hapless wronged man, Delroy; abused, threatened and harassed by the standard policing methods of the two bullying detectives, all because of the colour of his skin - of 'looking suspicious'. As a viewer, one gets a real sense of nightmarish claustrophobia and what it is like to be in his shoes. Meanwhile, Brown - in the flesh, one of the most easygoing and approachable actors I've ever known - is part Alf Garnett, part sadistic cruel monster as the senior copper Karn; the irony being this is a man whose surname suggests he is equally not from Anglo Saxon stock, and who openly admits to enjoying travelling to abroad with his wife and learning languages like French and Spanish to converse with locals whilst there. The scene where he discusses archaic laws and history to the increasingly bemused and terrified Dyer, all captured by carousel camerawork around the interview table, is especially terrifying, involving and brilliantly delivered.
Throughout the film we are reminded of the night the action takes place, the Conservative victory in the 1979 elections. It forms a prop to hang the film on, the attitudes of the ruling government to come allowing Brown and Spall et al a free pass for their institionalised racism, ignorance, intimidation and thuggery. Between the brief voice overs of Thatcher, you can almost hear the SPG rolling up on the horizon. Dark times ahead indeed.