Trevor Johnston talks to Liverpool writer Alan Bleasdale, about his first film, No Surrender.
‘I went to the National Film Finance Corporation and told them I was never going to write Star Wars or Rambo Revisited or anything like that. so I just went ahead and wrote the film I wanted to write.‘ Thus. Alan Bleasdale describes the genesis of his first cinema screenplay No Surrender. subtitled A Normal Night Out. . . These Days. which tackles the unlikely subject ofsectarianism amongst ()AI"s as two parties of pensioners. one from the local Orange Lodge and the other from a Catholic social club. get booked into the same seedy Liverpool nightclub one fateful New Year‘s Eve.
The film continues in the same vein of bleakly flamboyant realism. sharpened by a piquant. deadpan Scouse wit . as his earlier TV success The Boys From The Black Stuff. Bleasdale. a former teacher. turned to full-time writingin 1975 and the 1983 series brought him the greatest recognition. including a BAF'I'A award. of his prolific career. The exploits of Yosser l lughes and Co. in
6 The List 30 May — 12 June
their desperate. soul-destroying search for employment captured the feelings ofa nation that had not lost its self-respect when it gained its U840. Since then. Are You Lonesome Tonight." has seen him on the London stage exploring the final hours of Elvis Presley’s latterly sad existence. but No Surrender is a return to the capital of Ireland. Liverpool.
Michael Angelis. Chrissy from Black Stuff. is the new manager of the Charleston Club. trying to keep calm as merry Celtic hell breaks out around him. Ray McAnally and James Ellis. the latter now blind. play two old foes. Unionist and Republican respectively. with a forty year-old score to settle. who end up slugging it out in the (ients. And as if the geriatric mayhem erupting in the rest of the club was not enough. to this bubbling cauldron Bleasdale tosses in a gunman on the run. some underworld ‘unpleasantness‘. and. most disquietingly. a party of stranded mentally handicapped
gift/'11 .1,» any? 7 1’ W‘T’Q’ermyv
patients. The film is not an easy ride. Wisecracks aside. it‘s a very black look at the prejudices and greed rife in our society. which treads a thin line between comedy and horror. naturalism and dark surrealism.
‘I actually think it could have been darker though.‘ claims Bleasdalc. ‘I think I‘ve put a little sugar on the
: pill. But. ifyou put too much sugar on the pill it becomes like sugar
5 coating and it not only rots your
teeth. it rots your brain too. I can‘t
approach the typewriter with ‘ anything but passion. I‘m not going
to be one of these guys who in fifty years time will have his collected essays and letters published. because
- I haven‘t got any. I can only write when there's real passion involved. You may say it‘s bleak but these are
, bleak times we‘re living in. lthink with this film I‘ve tried to push it further than ever before.‘
However. No Surrender. while dealing in the tired dogmas ofthe ()range and the Green. probably has one of the oldest casts ever assembled and shows. as the title suggests. that age need not hobble hand in arthritic hand with decrepitude. ‘It came from my parents’ reminiscences ofthe 20‘s and the 30's and the kind ofconflicts
there were in Liverpool then. But also I really wanted to say something
about old people. that they can still be vital and alive and have these wild nights. My mother runs a council social club for pensioners and when I went down there it was great to see them all having a really great time. So. without getting on my high horse and being pompous about. like. society. I wanted to redress the balance because I think that once
you get past a certain age society just sort of pushes you to one side. My favourite bit in the whole film is where Jimmy Ellis knocks the shite out of the two young muggers in the subway. and as one of them runs away he says “Now there's no need for that”.‘
Indeed. despite the fact that a good deal ofthe film shows the forces of
ignorance and terror at work. Bleasdale does offer some sort of positive resolution. Michael Angelis 3 does stand up against the bully-boy tactics of the club‘s gangster proprietor: and Ray McAnally eventually speaks on the phone to his Catholic son-in-law in Belfast for the very first time. ‘lt‘s about two men 5 recovering their dignity" he stresses. ‘In a sense. that‘s what I keep returning to in what I write - people j are having their dignity taken away from them. And I mean rat/dignity. not in the sense of ‘dignified‘ with your nose in the air. I don‘t know what it is. whether it‘s the world recession or just the capitalist system. but people are being 3 stripped ofthat as if they just don't matter. So. my writing for some , years. Black Stuffincluded. has ' really been the same thingonly g 3 dressed up differently. It‘sthe same 1 message but a different postman.‘ Certainly. the story seems a familiar one in Bleasdale‘s home i town. beset by the problems 5 associated with high unemployment. .' Yet. at the same time. Liverpool never seems to be far away from the attention ofthe entertainment industry: No Surrender can be added to Letter To Brezhnev and Brookside amongst others. and the perils of ' over-exposure appear to be looming. ' "There has certainly been an awful j lot ofstuff done recently.‘ he agrees. ‘and. without naming any names. f some ofit has been shite. lthink that ' the time will come soon when people will just get sick of it al. So. as a response to that. the next thing I‘ve i done is a period piece. It's a series called Top/is The .llonoe/ed . i Mutineer and it'll be shown on the E BBC in September. Percy Toplis was a 17 year-old Notts miner. a real scallywag. who‘s known as the leader ofthe British army's largest mutiny onthe eve of Paschaendale in 1917. They thought he was a Bolshevik : trying to bring the Russian Revolution to Britain. but. in fact. he was just fed up being treated like ? crap. It'sa well-kept secret. and l really wanted to do it because _ although it‘s a costume piece it still i has a lot say about today.‘ In the meantime. .\'o Surrender brings a rare ‘passion’ to British _' cinema screens. and its ferocious attack contains some of Bleasdale's most disturbingly haunting moments. A must for all Rangers and (‘elticor I learts and Ilibs fans: and fairly essential viewing for anyone else.
(The film opens in ' (ilasgow at the (iI’l'. Rose St on
“‘ ' Thurs lZand runs untilSatZl.
transferring to the Iidinburgli Filmhouse. l.othian Road from Sun 22 until Sat 5 July; full details in the
Film I.ist ). ‘4.