Surely few social clubs could be seedier or more depressing than the Charleston, a graffiti-covered hangout on an overgrown lot in England’s grimy Liverpool. The owner’s henchmen beat the dishonest ex-manager to a bloody mess, but not before he plays a perverse parting joke on his successor: he books two parties of feuding Irish pensioners—one Catholic, the other Protestant—into the club for the same New Year’s Eve. That is the premise of No Surrender, a co-production of Britain’s Dumbarton Films and Toronto’s Lauron International Inc. Last year the film shared the International Critics’ Award at Toronto’s Festival of Festivals with My American Cousin. Now in general release, No Surrender is a decidedly black comedy—a vision of menace, mayhem and bigotry among many characters who have grown even more bilious with advancing age.
The movie revolves around Mike (Michael Angelis), the unsuspecting new manager who soon discovers the peculiar problems he has inherited. “I don’t have to do this,” he moans. “I could be unemployed right now.” But the owner’s threats convince him to stay and, along with bouncer Bernard (Bernard Hill), he presides over a bizarre New Year’s pageant. Among the Protestants is a grizzled gunman named Norman (Mark
Mulholland) who is hiding from police, and Billy (Ray McAnally), an ex-terrorist who is drawn unwillingly into the sectarian feud. As for the Catholics, they believe that they are taking part in a costume contest and have come dressed as such characters as Superwoman, Quasimodo and Laurel and Hardy.
At first, the Protestants and Catholics unite in hurling plates at a pathetic comedian and a rock band that assaults them with the lyrics, “We’re gonna die.” But soon they turn their anger on each other, and the night degenerates into a brawl, a police raid and even murder. For all that, the film, written by Alan Bleasdale and directed by Peter Smith, is not entirely grim. Its madcap humor lightens the load, and its excellent cast creates enough memorable characters to bring coherence to the chaos.
Nor is manager Mike utterly overwhelmed. He finds solace in the arms of Cheryl (Joanne Whalley), an earthy kitchen worker. What develops between them is less lofty than love, but surprisingly warm under the circumstances. There is even a final, if somewhat forced, note of hope. But in the end the lasting images are of a world gone slightly berserk. That may make for painful viewing at times, but as descents into hell go No Surrender is definitely worth the trip.
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