Sunday, 29 June 2014

News Hounds (1990)

"A week ago I was 'avin' a nice interview with 'em...askin' about me hobbies and star sign an' that. Now they're doin' this to me?!"

I'm a big fan of Les Blair's films. A true contemporary of Mike Leigh, not only have they worked together (Bleak Moments) and share the same improvisational film making methods, they also went to school together. Occasionally he's accused of producing Leigh-lite work (his 1993 film Bad Behaviour springs to mind) but I think that's a very unfair criticism. In a body of work that includes GF Newman's Law and Order, London's Burning, Honest Decent and True and some distinctive features in the Screen One strand - including this one from 1990 - it is clear he is anything but light or a pretender of some sort.

News Hounds, a film about the shabby world of tabloid journalism, is a film with as much to say today in the post Leveson world as it had 24 years ago. Set around the fictitious offices of The Brit newspaper (a thinly disguised The Sun) it stars Adrian Edmondson - virtually unrecognisable here in a fine straight drama performance from his work on Bottom or The Young Ones - and Mike Leigh's muse and then wife Alison Steadman as journalists who may have full bank accounts but have a cavernous hole where there morals should be. 

On his website Edmondson reflects on the enjoyable and beneficial long rehearsing and devising period for making the film (for his previous Blair film, Honest Decent and True, he recalls an in depth two month rehearsal period before the cameras rolled which seems to fit in with the Leigh working method) A week of this process was spent at The Daily Star's offices shadowing the news desk; "the phone rang and someone shouted across to the News Editor 'It's Greenpeace!'. 'Tell them to fuck off!' came the reply"

This work paid off as Blair captures a frighteningly realistic air to the proceedings, with its thieving, lying beer swilling journalists, that it makes the viewer feel in need of a good shower afterwards. The plot is relatively simple but that benefits the piece, giving us a feeling of just a few days in the life of a busy working newspaper office. Following an abortive undercover scoop on a kinky sex loving MP (its pulled by the powers that be with no explanation other than the chewed out editor Paul Kember's cry of 'we dropped a bollock') The Brit newspaper decide to go all out for a 19 year old actor from the Isle of Dogs (a young Steven Macintosh) who is achieving fame and household name status for his role on the TV soap 'The Square' (EastEnders in all but name) It's Macintosh's character who utters the immortal quote at the start of this review; the build 'em up and knock 'em down nature of the British tabloids relationship with celebrities in a nutshell. In dragging this young actor to the front pages, we see the reporters steal a photo from his half sister's (Linda Bassett) home which will prove that she is in fact his mother, and help place the final nail in the coffin of the Ade Edmondson character's life outside the grubby Brit offices - not that he seems unduly affected by this.

The key to Blair's work is believability and the extensive and unusual working methods clearly pay off to capture that air of authenticity. There's a frighteningly good performance from Alison Steadman as the chain smoking Nina Myskow alike who pretty much provides the answers for her interviewees; finishing their sentences, cutting them short and putting words in their mouths, and she gets to act opposite the vile Edwina Currie playing herself (though you'll note the scene cuts just as Steadman asks her who she fancies in The House - time will subsequently tell us John Major was the man in question!) as well as Edmondson's boorish moustachioed rugger bugger turn. But these are just the two 'starring' roles in what is truly a fine ensemble piece that includes Paul Kember, Christopher Fulford, Judith Scott and Antony Marsh all shedding light on the caustic and nefarious environment that brings many homes its headlines in the morning.

Watch it in full on YouTube here

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