You may not know Jamie Thraves’ name, but you’ve surely seen his work, and you’ve probably been impressed by it. If I were to tell you that Thraves, who wrote, directed and remortgaged his house to pay for Treacle Jr., directed the videos for Coldplay’s The Scientist, Damien Rice’s 9 Crimes and Radiohead’s Just – one of the best music videos of all time – then you’ll have an idea of the kind of reputation we’re dealing with here. Up to speed? Good, now I shall tell you why Treacle Jr. is one of the best films to have come out in recent years.
Shot on a shoestring budget all around South London, the film focuses on Tom (Fisher), a husband and father for whom the weight of responsibility is far too much, leaving him to abandon his family in Birmingham and travel south. Whilst running away from a street gang in Peckham, he smashes into a ruddy tree, landing himself in the hospital, where he meets Aidan (Gillen). As you can now tell, the film’s budget is so low that Thraves couldn’t afford character names.
Aidan is a loud, excitable, unstable Irish scamp, and exactly the person Tom doesn’t want to be around. Yet, when Aidan clocks him in the waiting room, and then outside the hospital, he won’t leave him alone. This relationship forms the backbone of the film as when Tom finds out that Aidan’s life isn’t a bed of roses – he is regularly assaulted and lives with an abusive, adulterous girlfriend (Steele) – he again has the weight of responsibility thrust upon him.
Gillen is truly excellent in this film, teetering on the edge of sanity with all the skill and deftness of a tightrope walker, and in the process outshining his supporting cast. It’s worth mentioning just how funny he makes the film too, at several points leaving me with severe chest pains from laughing too much. His chemistry with Fisher is great too, calling to mind the dynamic achieved by Brendan Gleeson and Rúaidhrí Conroy in Martin McDonagh’s Six Shooter. However, perhaps the best cinematic comparison to Treacle Jr. would be the films of the French New Wave.
Thraves uses the South London locations beautifully, whether shooting a sunrise on Peckham Rye or following Tom and Aidan around the back alleys and council estates of Walworth and Camberwell. The city is handled in the same way Truffaut does for The 400 Blows, and in a scene in which Aidan and Tom visit the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, Thraves seems to be directly referencing a similar scene in another French New Wave classic, Chris Marker’s La Jeteé, which would go on to be re-envisioned by Terry Gilliam as Twelve Monkeys.
The use of music in this film is also beautiful, which is somewhat unsurprising given Thraves’ music video credentials. The original score from Stems is a perfect compliment to the film, and is used sparingly so as to enhance the mood, rather than establish it out right. The more I think about it, the less I can think of anything bad to say about this film, and the less I want to give away about it, as truly it’s a film you need to see. Also, and finally, if the ending doesn’t move you to floods tears, well you better bloody well check your pulse.