Friday, 22 July 2016
Runners is a 1983 film that explores the desperation parents must feel when their children go missing. Northerner Tom Lindsay (James Fox) waved goodbye to his eleven year old daughter as she left home on her bicycle one day, he could not suspect that she would never return home. With his teenage daughter on the missing list for two years, Lindsay refuses to accept the pessimism around him and the suggestions that she is probably dead, and sets out on a journey to London to find her.
There he meets Jane Asher, a fellow member of a rather desperate and eccentric self-help support group for the parents of missing children (who meet in an empty swimming baths - reminding us of Asher's turn in the excellent Deep End from the previous decade), and together they scour the hidden world of the capital for their errant offspring, coming into contact with a range of puzzling figures who may help or hinder them, and finding a momentary comfort in each other in the process, despite their respective partners at home.
Written in the usual idiosyncratic manner by Stephen Poliakoff, Charles Sturridge's film is a bleak, documentarian look that shines a light on the unseen aspects of London, turning a social issue drama into a distinctive and deeply atmospheric ambiguous thriller that seems to serve as a metaphor for Thatcher's Britain and the 'get on your bike' employment policy of Norman Tebbit (cheekily referenced in some graffiti at one stage).
Given the countless number of toffs James Fox has played down the years, it's easy to forget how versatile an actor he could actually be - as anyone who has seen his extremely realistic London gangster in Performance will testify (watch out to far his co-star from that film, real life East End shady Johnny Shannon in a small role here as a hotel receptionist). I'd go so far as to say that this ranks alongside Performance as one of Fox's greatest roles. He easily slips into the Stockport accent his character possesses (perhaps he developed an ear for the Northern dialect in the 1970s when, leaving acting briefly behind him, he found religion and worked in a mission in Bolton, of all places) and the neurosis and desperation Tom Lindsay understandably feels is brilliantly conveyed throughout.
The object of his hunt, his daughter Rachel, is remarkably played by Kate Hardie in her screen debut. Though she was only fourteen or fifteen at the time (and I recall a story about a pop star at the time, whose name escapes me, who announced to the NME that he 'fancied Bill Oddie's daughter in that film Runners', leading to the reporter pointing out that she is just 13 years old - a slight error; as that's the character's age) her screen persona comes fully fledged in Runners; she is, as The Independent would later proclaim, the foreunner of the hip, damaged nymphet that Hollywood were in awe of in the '90s and early '00s, and it's easy to see how her huge-eyed, duck lipped baby face could attract anyone's attentions. Though the pop star's (whoever he may be) attentions may have been a shade unhealthy at this stage, it's worth pointing out that Poliakoff's script does not go down the route of Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa, which Hardie would go on to star in as a vulnerably teenage prostitute and the object of Cathy Tyson's obsession and affections.
Runners is a quirky odyssey that refuses to explain itself when father is reunited with daughter. It may make for an anti-climactic ending in some eyes, but by this stage your attention has been engaged so completely that you should pretty much accept its rather oblique mystery.