VOD film review: Greyhawk
James R | On 19, May 2015
Director: Guy Pitt
Cast: Alec Newman, Zoe Telford
Watch Greyhawk online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Google Play / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV
Council estates have become an increasingly familiar sight in cinemas in recent years, sometimes as a source of sympathy (Fish Tank), sometimes as a threat (Harry Brown) and sometimes as the backdrop for an alien invasion (Attack the Block). Greyhawk uses its titular estate as something completely different: a map of one man’s blindness.
Alec Newman plays Mal, a arm veteran who was blinded in Afghanistan. He spends his days walking around London with his dog, Quince, going down to the local cafe and waiting until he can afford to move away. One day, following a run-in with some youths, his dog goes missing – a loss that forces him to brave the neighbouring Greyhawk estate to find him.
Along the way, he bumps into Paula (Telford), a single mum struggling with a troublesome teen of her won. She’s kind and tries to help. He’s rude and abrasive. It’s inevitable, therefore, that this odd couple should start to become friends.
That sense of familiarity runs throughout Mark Pitt’s script, as we wait for Mal’s tough exterior to soften or boo the vilified kids growing up in the council flats. If the characterisation of the thuggish young’uns is lacking in shades of grey, though – one scene of playground bullying feels more unbelievable than unfair – the script makes up for it by never letting its lead become a hero.
Alec Newman (who has been in everything from Waterloo Road to 24: Live Another Day) is great as the grieving soldier, spitting out bitterness at everyone around him. After training with the charity Blind Veterans UK and a visually impaired Staff Sergeant, he’s completely believable in the role, begrudgingly getting out his stick to tap his way through the apartments and using his shades more as shield against the world than anything. Even when he comes into contact with a young girl, he struggles to be nice.
Zoe Telford (who did a lot with the small part of John Watson’s girlfriend, Sarah, in Sherlock) is just as good as Paula, making even the tiny gesture of offering a cup of tea feel significant.
Why, then, should we care about Mal at all? That’s Greyhawk’s great achievement. Director Guy Pitt and DoP Eben Bolter shoot the grubby neighbourhood with a sympathy for Mal’s experience, subtly pulling focus and framing close-ups on small details. The sound design, too, turns up the volume on boiling kettles and snapping bras, beautifully capturing the world from his perspective. Together, they create an involving drama, which makes even the challenge of walking down some unknown steps a daunting task. The kids in the council estate may not be anything new, but this impressive feature debut turns a familiar location into an emotional map of friendship and loneliness.
Greyhawk is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.