The Fence review – rough justice on the meanish streets of 1980s Bristol

Likable debut feature casts Sally Phillips as the mother of two tearaways, one of whom turns crimefighter when his motorbike is pinched

An expanded version of a well-received short of the same name made in 2018, this represents a sparky if a smidge predictable feature debut for writer-director William Stone, fronted by a mix of fresh and familiar onscreen faces. The redoubtable Sally Phillips (the Bridget Jones films, Veep) probably worked three or four days max to play put-upon working-class Sharon, mother to two variously dodgy young men, all of them living on a Bristol council estate in the 1980s. The younger brother Steve (David Perkins from Hollyoaks, a find) has a steady job working at the local butcher and boosts his income with illegal fishing, selling the catch to a local restaurant. As the film starts, he’s finally saved enough scratch to buy a small Honda XL 125 motorbike, which promptly gets nicked five minutes after he drives it home and leaves it parked by his front door.

This sets in train the rest of the plot which follows Steve as he trudges around town trying to find who stole his bike, especially since the police clearly have no interest in helping when they hear he is the kid brother of Andrew Knight (Eugene Simon, Game of Thrones). Andrew is on probation, and trying to go straight with a regular job, but a short temper and a killer right hook perpetually get him in trouble. Together the two brothers traverse the local underworld: a landscape full of pubs, municipal playgrounds, and quiet sidestreets where drug dealers do a lively trade in heroin.

Stone and his team have an acute eye for the semiotics of subcultures of the time, with Steve and then Andrew adopting skinhead haircuts and some of the signature attire – but they’re not fans of Enoch Powell or any of that malarkey. In fact, the film offers a vision of a multicultural Bristol that’s probably a bit over-idealised, but there’s still a bit of grit that gives the film a welcome edge. One of the funnier gags, involving a character never seen but only heard shouting from offscreen, immediately recalls BBC sitcom This Country, particularly on account of the West Country accents. Perhaps it enhances the sense that a lot of this is quite derivative, but it rolls along nicely all the same.

• The Fence is released on 28 November on digital platforms.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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