Tuesday, 17 March 2015

You, Me & Marley (1992)

You, Me & Marley is an utterly electric 1992 drama from the BBC Screenplay strand predates Trainspotting by a good four years in depicting as authentically and as no holds barred as possible an underground and illicit youth culture - in this case the early '90s craze for joyriding; stealing cars and staging races and stunts for their own amusement.

Set in the Troubles torn West Belfast - though filmed in Manchester I believe - writer Graham Reid (who wrote the Billy plays that launched Kenneth Branagh's career) and director Richard Spence not only explore the tensions and desperation such a situation creates for the disenchanted, anti-social youth but they also use  a story torn from the headlines to create this tough, funny and moving drama - namely the case of British squaddie Lee Clegg who, on 30 September 1990, fired nineteen bullets into a stolen Vauxhall Astra that passed at high speed through the checkpoint he and his fellow soldier manned on West Belfast's Upper Glen Road. Clegg fired four of the nineteen bullets that fatal evening and was responsible for the deaths of 17-year-old driver Martin Peake and 18 year old passenger Karen Reilly. A third passenger, Markiewicz Gorman, escaped with minor injuries. Clegg was convicted of murder but this was subsequently quashed by the end of the decade.  

What is clear from watching You, Me & Marley is that whilst the teenage joyriders display some deeply unpleasant and criminal behaviour, there is also some understanding in Reid's script and they are portrayed with complexity, depth and shade as it becomes apparent that they get their thrills from taunting all sides in the deeply regulated Belfast society. Like many disruptive youth, they find themselves bored, sick and jaded of the small world around them, even when that world is as brutal and corrupt as Northern Ireland. As a result, Sectarianism means little to them and they are truly one for all and all for one in their little band of revellers which includes the titular trio; the runtish Sean, known as 'Wart',  who has lost family to the Troubles, the accident prone, short sighted Marley,  and the fiercely intelligent, feisty Frances each played by Marc O'Shea, Michael Liebmann and Bronagh Gallagher.

The message is violence begats violence and crime and, whilst each quarter - the British army, the RUC and the paramilitaries - is shown to be savage, it is perhaps the IRA that Reid shows the most contempt for. The elder parish priest (James Greene, who forms a pleasing 'Greek Chorus' double act with Lorcan Cranitch's younger priest) refers to the joyriders as "monsters that they created", they being the IRA, represented by the softly spoken, respectable and bespectacled Reggie Devine played by Ian McElhinney. Beyond the climactic violent incident inspired by the Clegg affair, it is the IRA who is shown to be the most violent in terms of addressing the joyriding event, doling out horrific vigilante beatings and their trademark kneecappings. 

You, Me & Marley is ultimately a fine though harrowing portrait of the Troubles and a fine, sardonic and authentic portrait of 90s youth culture complete with a cracking soundtrack of rave and dance music. It's a film that offers no answers for either situation, just a litany of wasted lives and tragic circumstances that makes the actions of our central characters a little more understandable.

You, Me & Marley has never been 'officially' released but you can get copies online. It is also available to view on YouTube. To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

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