Firstly, I must say if ever a film suffered from false or unfortunate marketing it is GBH. For a start there's two captions on the front and rear of the DVD (and the poster shared above) that easily misdirects viewers. The first claims the film is "From The Firm Who Brought You The Rise And Fall Of A White Collar Hooligan" which to me is just an instant turn off. It sounds like it glamourises football hooliganism and suggests that the British film industry that constantly churns these movies out is on a par with these vicious gangs. Next is a quote from 'Filmsploitation' - whoever or whatever that is - which claims GBH is like"A Cross Between The Long Good Friday and The Sweeney" Besides being set in a tinderbox London over a period of time I see nothing in common with The Long Good Friday here, and I'm guessing they're referring to the Nick Love film version of the latter there, which is naturally bound to hook the laddish devotee of football hooligan/Danny Dyer films.
Granted writer James Crow and director Simon Phillips do not help themselves by welding on a football hooliganism subplot that is wholly redundant to the rest of the film and it's intentions. Granted, GBH's central character a young policeman called Damien (Nick Nevern) is supposed to have a foot in both camps; the law and the mates he's known from way back who consider themselves above the law. But did it really have to be football hooliganism? I don't think so. I think the violent and repugnant behaviour on display here from his so called mates could have just been simple thuggish criminality. It's almost as if the film makers are aware that there's a market for any film that can be labelled football hooligan genre and so they attempted to forge links with them.
Then there's the title GBH. Alan Bleasdale's brilliant series aside, GBH conjures up exactly the kind of beer and casual brutality movie that most Danny Dyer fans would wish to watch. The film was originally called Riot, which I'll admit isn't an inspiring title either, but I do think Riot is probably the lesser of two evils and more fitting with the film itself - because the film ultimately uses the London riots of 2011 as its backdrop.
This is most emphatically not yet another football hooligan movie. It's not Nick Love's The Sweeney either. In fact the film I was constantly reminded of was the 2011 film Rampart, because like that this is an exploration into the psyche of a dark avenging angel police officer. The film wants to be an examination of 'Broken Britain', or more specifically a broken London and, more successfully placed into the mix is the 2011 riots, the Afghan war, unemployment, sexual abuse, rising urban crime including drugs and gun crime. Unfortunately the script has a tendency only to pay lip service to these issues but somehow this less deeper exploration is perhaps fitting given that we see how these things affect Damien, a disturbed and damaged individual who you just now is going to reach boiling point from the off, you're just not sure how.
As Damien, Nevern - an actor I'm not especially familiar with - delivers an interesting and measured performance which constantly keeps his character's motivations close to his chest and thus the audience at arm's length. There are no answers or explanations on offer from the makers of GBH, just a chance to show the effects and they do so in a distinctive and intentionally disorientating manner which, when coupled with a very minimalist eerie score only adds to the sense of disquiet you feel throughout the duration of the film.
Nevern is also very ably supported by former EastEnders star Kellie Shirley (she played Phil Daniels' character's daughter on the soap and naturally not being a Mitchell, a Branning or a Slater or whoever is now flavour of the month in that Godawful dross never really stood much of a chance) as his rookie partner and love interest. It's an incredibly affecting performance culminating in a scene that is a very diffuclt watch. There's also Con O'Neill, a favourite of mine, popping up as her disabled and depressed father and a brief glimpse of London to Brighton star Lorraine Stanley as a truant's mother.
The film does hit some wrong notes though in other areas of casting; whilst it's nice to see Steven Berkoff, the grandfather of Lahndahn drama pistured above, it's a bit of a stretch to take him seriously as a Chief Constable as, being 75 or 76 at the time of filming, he'd have been long past retirement age. Also hard to take seriously is the blonde female officer played by Charlie Bond, who looks more like a very enticing WPC kiss-o-gram than an actual serving officer given her glamorous perfect porcelain skin looks and heavy make up; pictured alongside Kellie Shirley below
Meanwhile one key plot point involving the war in Afghanistan and its effects on the homefront is somewhat diminished by an actress whose performance is, at best, cliched and at worst similarly unbelievable with poor dialogue. Also the film shares actors from other football hooligan films like Roland Manookian (The Football Factory) which doesn't help make this stand apart.
Overall though this is an interesting effort that, despite its flaws, ought to be commended more than it has been. Most of the negative reviews on Amazon seem to be because this film isn't a standard football hooligan movie, which again proves the issue with marketing. It's a hard film for me to rate. I've a feeling it's the kind of film that would require a couple of watches to properly get a handle on, which is something of an overwhelming prospect because this is a very difficult, disconcerting watch.