It's a shame really that Alan Bleasdale, one of the finest screenwriters to spring up on British TV in the late 70s and 80s - the man responsible for such greats as Boys From The Blackstuff, The Muscle Market, The Monocled Mutineer and GBH - failed to successfully cross over to the big screen. No Surrender, may have been made at a time when the British Film Industry was largely seen to be on its arse, but even with better distribution or production values, I see nothing here that could have elevated it from the status it does in fact have, that of a small cult favourite.
We're in typical Bleasdale territory; the austere hard living quick witted Liverpool of the 1980s, where violence is an ever present threat and the humour is typically dark and bleak despite the larger than life bizarre eccentrics who populate the events. Remember Shake Hands in the closing scene of Boys From The Blackstuff, that moment when you weren't sure to laugh at the inanity or cry at the desolation that brought someone here? Imagine that kind of off the wall stark madness magnified, but played more for obvious laughs (I think?!) and you have No Surrender, a film which reunited Bleasdale with some of 'The Boys' themselves - Michael Angelis, Bernard Hill and Tom Georgeson.
The film revolves around one eventful New Year's Eve night in Liverpool's clubland. Hapless Michael (Angelis) starts his shift as the run down Charleston Club's new manager following the sudden resignation and disappearance of his predecessor MacArthur. After meeting his head doorman Bernard (pronounced Ber-nard) played by Hill and the general dogsbody and daydreaming singer Cheryl (a young Joanne Whalley, not at her best and struggling with the accent) Michael realises that MacArthur has left him squarely in the shit, lumbering him not just with pathetic acts including a totally out of place new wave post punk band, a crap gay comedian in a fur coat (played local radio celebrity Pete Price) and an insecure magician whose rabbit has just died (played by none other than Elvis Costello) he's also treble booked the club's OAP guests that night, leading to the arrivals of senior citizens coach parties for the mentally infirm, a local group of Irish Catholics (led by James Ellis as a blind former boxer) in fancy dress and the local Protestant Orange Lodge order (led by Ray McAnally, giving another faultless performance), with a Loyalist gunman being sheltered by the latter!
Michael soon finds that MacArthur is actually being violently punished for his behaviour (and the fact he had his hands in the till) in one of the side rooms by the club's owner and local gangster played by Tom Georgeson and heavy Vince Earl (from Brookside, one of several 'Oh look' faces which include Andrew 'Scully' Schofield, a couple of McGann's, Ives from Porridge, and a young Ian Hart) just as the chaos from the guests threatens to erupt in the club itself. Naturally, it's the kind of chaos that helps if you're on Bleasdale's wavelength but that said, even though I consider myself a fan, I found his depiction of the (largely redundant) mentally ill characters somewhat unsavoury and voyeuristic and found that despite the odd chuckle overall the material never really found the right gear to get going with. It's not really Bleasdale's fault, I don't think - his dialogue is still as snappy as ever and it's well delivered as ever by veterans Angelis and Hill who provide the film with its laughs. No, I think the issue is with Peter Smith's exceptionally flat direction and his playing to the panto-esque trappings of the fancy dress mayhem rather than letting the realism to take centre stage and allowing the audience to find the funny for themselves.
Peter Kay is on record as saying No Surrender was a direct influence on his writing 'In The Club' for his series That Peter Kay thing which subsequently led to the successful spin off Phoenix Nights, and it's easy to see why - especially when one joke is completely lifted from the script here! It's well worth a watch if you know Liverpool or enjoy the acerbic working class Northern humour, but if you're a novice I'd recommend other films of that ilk or indeed anything of Bleasdale's TV work before this. If you want a low budget earthy Northern cult classic from the 80s go for Rita Sue and Bob Too. But if your interest has been piqued by this post you can see the film in full on Youtube.