A film by Brian Welsh, Beats was a passion project he felt like he just had to make. Based on the play of the same name, he actually teamed with the playwright Kieran Hurley to co-write the screenplay. Together they bring to life the illegal party scene of 1994 Glasgow.
Best mates Johnno and Spanner are on the cusp of leaving school, living in a small Scottish town. The film follows their ‘coming of’ age journey, both along very different paths. Johnno has a new father figure he doesn’t trust, a police officer full of rules, who plans on taking the family off to live in the suburbs. Spanner lives with his violent, temperamental older brother. Their friendship is based on the release and passion they get from listening to dance music. Having found a pirate radio station which streams recordings of the infamous free parties, they finally have the chance to join one. Stealing money from his brother, Spanner convinces Johnny to join him on the adventure of their young lives; meeting an eclectic cast of supporting characters and getting into scrapes on the way.
Welsh was fascinated with the legislation of the Criminal Justice Act, specifically the infamous ‘repetitive beats’ wording. The film documents the youngsters desire to form their rave community, and does so sympathetically. The quest for this freedom in broken Britain is made harder with police breaking up their meetings constantly. There is a real sense of isolation for the characters, of suffocation. It’s an artfully told story, with the relationship of the protagonists at the very core of it. The performances are at times intimate, dialed down but sharp. Lorn Macdonald as Spanner is a particular treat.
Welsh’s episode for Black Mirror (The Entire History of You) had caught the attention of Steven Soderbergh who is an executive producer on the film. ‘Everyone was very nervous about shooting in black and white’ explained Welsh at the BFI preview screening on Monday night. ‘We kind of just did it and then showed them the dailies but it took some persuading - they didn’t want the film to look like a niche art house movie.’ The black and white is intoxicating; at times nostalgic, and at others poignant. In contrast there’s a dreamy, surreal party scene which sparks with colour and life.
Safe to say that Beats feels like a breath of fresh air for British Cinema right now, with a killer soundtrack and honest, sensitive performances. A must see.