Trains have long been a key cinematic emblem, poetic lifelines of movement simultaneously bringing people closer together and farther apart. In Shane Meadow’s brilliant Somers Town, these skeletons of transportation reside just out of reach, offscreen treasures of potential travel waiting to be discovered by each character, both young and old. But they also represent a collective displacement – for young Polish immigrant Marek (Piotr Jagiello) living with his father in London, and the British runaway Tomo (Thomas Turgoose) he befriends – pushing each away from traumatic pasts toward uncertain futures. It’s this dynamic that makes what seems like a simple story brim with subtext.
When Marek and Tomo meet by chance in a coffee shop, their social compasses share a common confusion of identity, drawing them together into an essential friendship. Their relationship is completely organic and Meadows handles his young actors with the perfect combination of honesty and sympathy. Filmed mostly in stunning black and white photography, Somers Town captures both characters as they discover the minor disappointments of young love and the harsh realities of the adult world. But Meadows always keeps a longing hope on the horizon, and in the final moments Kings Cross Train station provides an epic symbol of possibility for the young lads.
Shane Meadows has quickly become one of my favorite directors and one of Britain’s finest, miraculously jumping from genre to genre without sacrificing his unique tenderness and humanity. Although tonally as different as they come, Dead Man’s Shoes, This Is England, and now Somers Town all dissect traditional family structures by addressing complexities of class hidden beneath the surface, revealing a dichotomy between trauma and possibility that resonates beyond the final frame. For Somers Town, this approach works especially well at fleshing out Marek and Tomo’s shared experience, whether they’re watching the trains arrive or depart.