"There's loads to do in Stevenage...if you like concrete"
"I fucking hate this town"
Stevenage. No offence to anyone who hails from there, but it really is a shithole. I can just about say this, as I used to go out with a girl from there and visited its grim concrete desolation row regularly. It's telling that the two most famous films made in Stevenage, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush and this, chart the decline from optimism to pessimism of these government sponsored urban landscapes that were built upon the rural and undeveloped areas of our land in the postwar period to help accommodate the 'overspill' from deprived inner city areas. In the earlier film the mood is bright and breezy for our young freewheeling protagonists, but by the time we reach the 1990s of Boston Kickout, the youth on display are emphatically disillusioned. The film, from writer/director Paul Hills, is a semi-autobiographical tale about his own experiences growing up in the town.
Phil (John Simm) moved from London to Stevenage as a child with his father (Derek Martin) in the 1980s shortly after witnessing his mother's suicide. Now it is 1991 and Phil and his friends, Ted (Andrew Lincoln), Matt (Nathan Valente) and Steve (Richard Hanson), have just left school and are caught in that limbo period of the 'final' summer; waiting for the exam results that will shape their adult lives. Ted, effortlessly cool, is keen to break out of the stifling atmosphere of his hometown and promptly disappears in dramatic fashion on that first night of freedom - perhaps because he knows that if you stick around any longer you'll end up like Steve's older brother, Robert (a scene-stealing Marc Warren), a wild skinhead who revels in his small town legend; "I've been thrown out of every club in Stevenage!" he gleefully proclaims after the bouncers chuck him into the street for glassing someone. "There's only two!" Phil points out, but it does little to deflate his sense of achievement.
Caught between these two extremes is Phil and Simm's performance of understated charm serves as the perfect balance. Feeling somewhat lost without the routine of school and with his best mate Ted AWOL, Phil drifts through a dead-end summer job at a bakery whilst indulging in his pastime of photography, not really knowing what he wants to do with his life, or what he wants from it. The developments of his friends - Matt gets engaged and Steve's behaviour becomes increasingly strange - provides him with some surprising distractions, but he only gets something of his own when his Shona, his outgoing Irish cousin (Emer McCourt) visits, leading to romance. This too however, proves to be a momentary distraction and, when his father attempts suicide, Phil must ultimately make a decision to either accept his lot and become absorbed by his peers and the culture around him, or break out and seek to achieve his potential.
Boson Kickout is a sadly overlooked film, perhaps because it was quickly lost in the wave of more successful and better remembered films such as Trainspotting and Human Traffic, which also starred Simm, an effective poster boy for the Britpop 90s, and featured some of the same production team, including a producer credit Emer McCourt. It's a shame, because I think overall Boston Kickout is a more contemplative and mature offering than the enjoyably cartoonish antics of Human Traffic, with themes that are perhaps less dated, and is certainly better than the Trainspotting wannabes that followed in its wake. It's easy to see why Simm, Lincoln and Warren went on to bigger and better things, but sadly Valente and Hanson did not, and their somewhat anonymous performances perhaps tell that tale.
I'd recommend the film for anyone who grew up or came of age in the 1990s, it's choice soundtrack (Oasis, The Stone Roses, Primal Scream etc) and the fashions (I was amused to see that Ted dressed exactly like I did in the '90s and the early '00s - I had exactly the same leather jacket and a fondness for obscure T-shirts, and given that I have short dark, wavy/curly hair just like Lincoln's, it was quite an out-of-body experience!) will certainly bring back memories, and if you lived in a new town or a dead end town, you'll appreciate that sense of being young and alive but being held back and a little scared of taking the leap. It's not perfect, but it is a funny and touching coming-of-age drama that I had a good time with.
Oh and the title? It refers to the game that Phil et al played as kids, jumping over the fences of neighbouring homes and trashing their gardens.