Thursday, 17 July 2014

Coppers (1988)

I love Tim Roth. I especially love early Tim Roth, the stuff he did before ostensibly getting 'fame'. The stuff he did before moving to America and adopting a variety of American accents. The stuff he did before accepting the poisoned chalice that was Grace of Monaco.

Don't get me wrong by the way, this doesn't mean I don't like Roth's subsequent career or believe he will continue to prosper despite his appearance in the biggest stinker of his career. I really do, on both counts. But early Tim Roth, the stuff done here in the UK is an electrifying delight. Just think of them; Made in Britain, The Hit, Meantime, King of the Ghetto, Captives....

So it's especially exciting when you get to discover an overlooked and forgotten gem of his from this period.

Coppers is just such a thing. A 1988 one off drama of the Screen One mould it was written by Stephen Wakelam and stars Roth as Graham, a very dangerous dreamer.

"When you're at school and somebody says you're a dreamer. It's like you're a fool or you don't get anything done. I don't believe that. I think that dreamers are the most powerful people in the world, and I think it's because of dreamers that the world turns" such is Graham's opening words as we - and his friend Robert (Reece Dinsdale) are led into his make believe world.

Graham and Robert are two bored twenty somethings in Thatcher's Britain. This could easily turn into an ode to the disenfranchised working class youth but Wakelam's script offers something more unique; instead of travelling the loadsamoney path that contemporaries of the duo may well have undertaken to make something of themselves, Graham and Robert instead create their own existence from scratch, a make believe in the real world which sees them patrolling the London streets at night in their auction bought red Vauxhall Cavalier dressed as two Metropolitan police constables.  

"It always works, if you look official. If you're quiet and confident, people will always believe's easy do you see? Deceiving people"  Graham says as he discusses his plan with the naive and easily led Robert. And soon enough, Graham's belief comes all too true as they manage to fool not just the members of the public they pull up for minor transgressions but also real police officers, including future Fast Show star Mark Williams as a beat bobby called 'Spud'  

Wakelam and director Ted Clisby develop an intriguing and quietly unnerving twilight atmosphere in which reality becomes satisfyingly blurred. One great scene sees Graham and Robert's patrol being joined by a large police van. Pulling up alongside them in the deserted road, the van's uniformed passenger seems to want them to pull over and Robert, driving, starts to silently panic, fearful of being caught out. When the officer in the van pulls a gun, the alarm is palpable...only for it to be revealed as a water pistol, squirting Robert in the face. Graham is nonplussed, even amused "Perhaps they're not real police either?" he suggests - a worrying thought indeed.

As the film continues, we discover Graham's past is full of imaginary passages. He claims to have served in the army for a time, but the truth is he was in hospitality for the TA. He's fascinated by authority, power and control and of course weaponry, which leads to him attempting to apply for the police inbetween his extra curricular activities with Robert. These scenes, with Tony Rohr, are vaguely reminiscent of Taxi Driver and show up the fragile and dangerous state of mind Graham has, underplayed beautifully by Roth. It's the subtle exploration of the life of a fantasist, coupled with an assured sense of the atmospheric that makes Coppers a far better example of the Mitty-ish than say, Paper Mask from 1990 which saw Paul McGann as a similarly dangerous dreamer, donning a white coat to fool all at a local hospital which became more of a disappointingly out and out thriller.

Coppers is available to watch on Youtube.

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