A Boy Called Dad
When 14-year old Robbie (Kyle Ward) knocks up one of his classmates, Leanne, he finds himself with a son when all he “ever wanted was a dad.” Denied access to the child, Robbie is determined not to follow in the footsteps of Joe (Ian Hart), his own waster of a father, and, when he witnesses Leanne’s thuggish new boyfriend being violent towards mother and child, he snaps, attacking the aforementioned thuggish boyfriend, stealing the baby and heading for the hills. Or at least the Welsh Valleys. There he meets traumatised young mute Nia (we know she’s traumatised coz she don’t talk), who helps him hide out in a barn while the cops, the media and an increasingly desperate Joe (eager to redeem himself and make up for all those years where he blew the family allowance on the ponies), scour the country for them.
Premiering at the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival and nominated for the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature (an award eventually won by Duncan Jones’ Moon), director Brian Percival’s debut feature A Boy Called Dad was rather eclipsed by the acclaim heaped on Andrea Arnold’s slice of kitchen sink-estate miserablism Fish Tank. Both films feature young protagonists desperate to escape their grim realities. Both feature feckless parents. Neither film could be mistaken for feel-good, Bill Forsyth-style chuckleathons (Personally, I long for the days when coming-of-age in a British film meant borrowing a white jacket and asking out the girl who’s just joined the football team rather than downing a shedload of Es and alcopops and committing a gang-rape). Fish Tank may have been the smarter film (and the loooooooonger, more resolutely downbeat one) but there’s a lot to enjoy in A Boy Called Dad, most notably some fantastic performances and a rather neat sense of place.
While Julie Rutherford’s script never met a cliché it didn’t like (the mute girl who’s more of a plot device than a character, Leanne’s gun-toting thug boyfriend who’s about as three-dimensional as Andy Capp, the ending…) and there’s a worrying undercurrent of misogyny running through the film (the most significant female figures are Robbie’s doormat mother, stereotypical slapper Leanne and mute madonna Nia. Think I might be getting fixated on the mute girl), A Boy Called Dad’s urban scenes have a visual rawness that contrasts sharply with the less frenetic, almost idyllic (at least by Robbie’s standards) rural scenes. While the action might be overblown and downright ludicrous at times, Percival’s film at least dares to get its young chav hero out of the ghetto setting we’re all familiar with.
Kyle Ward gives a phenomenal performance as the junior member of Fathers 4 Justice and is ably supported by Ian Hart, as the feckless Joe, and Charlene McKenna, who manages to do a lot with the charcoal sketch of a character that is the mute girl. Likeable and assured, Ward’s Robbie is just the right mix of cockiness and vulnerability, transcending the material with a performance that’s both gripping and truthful. Ward is a refreshingly honest presence and like Fish Tank’s Katie Jarvis or Thomas Turgoose, I’d expect to see more of him. His scenes with the ever-reliably excellent Ian Hart hum and their tentative, growing relationship forms the emotional backbone of the film, neatly mirrored in the scenes with the baby which realistically portray the responsibilities, anxieties and sheer terror of childcare as the inexperienced boy is (cliché alert…cliché alert…) forced to become a man. While it stretches credibility at times (well, most of the time), A Boy Called Dad packs an emotional punch and tells its story with a warmth and humour normally lacking in modern Brit-flicks.
Ian Hart, Kyle Ward, Charlene McKenna, Louise Delamere