Shane Meadows, a BAFTA winner for his gritty and vivid “This is England,” is back with a new film that opens in a New York release yesterday. The film, which had its debut in the 2008 Berlinale, is remarkable for being financed by one of its stars — European rail operator Eurostar. Eurostar originally commissioned Meadows to make them a twelve-minute short that showed off the train’s new (in 2007) high-speed rain line from London to Paris through the Chunnel. The idea turned into a feature-length film, clocking in at a slim 70 minutes. Many critics have used their reviews of the film to comment on the film’s relationship to the greater trend of product placement and corporate sponsorship of films, many of them noting that “Somers Town” is an exception to all the reasons to complain about the practice.
In the Village Voice, Scott Foundas comments, “In an unconventional marketing move, Eurostar commissioned Meadows – the cinema’s poet laureate of hardscrabble Midlands living – to make a film for the occasion, which began as a short and evolved into this 70-minute feature. That fact alone may guarantee ‘Somers Town’ a footnote in film history as the apotheosis of product placement. But the film is considerably softer in its sales tactic than the feature-length FedEx commercial known as “Cast Away,” and “Transformers”‘ effort to jump-start the U.S. auto industry. Whereas Hollywood long ago sold its soul to corporate benefactors, Meadows has managed to retain his.”
Chris Tookey at Britain’s Daily Mail negotiates the relationship between Meadows’s style and his corporate sponsor, and in doing so, highlights what may have been gained or lost in the partnership. “Eurostar has provided most of the budget, so the characters rhapsodise without provocation about the ease with which one can travel from London to Paris. The story is as thin as the characterisation, and is stretched out to a meagre 72 minutes only by some woefully undistinguished songs by singer-songwriter Gavin Clarke. On the plus side, the picture successfully evokes teenage friendship and puppy love, and the two central performances look authentic. There is more warmth in this than in most of Meadows’ movies.” He continues, “But there’s not much dramatic conflict, let alone plot resolution, in the sloppy script by Meadows’ friend since childhood, Paul Fraser. Anyone hoping for character development will be disappointed, and that’s a disadvantage in a rites-of-passage movie.”
On the U.K.’s Channel 4 website, Ali Catterall gauges the greater critical reaction of the film, putting it all in perspective. “Naturally, Meadows’ decision to share a sleeper carriage with The Man has proved somewhat controversial, especially among certain frothing film critics looking to make names for themselves. Frankly, if product placements give them such coronaries, for the sake of their own health may they never be allowed anywhere near ‘Sex And The City: The Movie.’ While heaven forbid they should ever find out that Mike Leigh, Ken Loach – and yes, Shane Meadows – have all made McDonald’s ads in the past. Compared with taking the clown’s shilling, the Eurostar hook-up seems more like patronage (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) than branding; Meadows insists they were very hands off – even given a slightly cringey scene in which one character waxes lyrical about those wonderful trains that go under the sea. Most movies are rarely wholly ‘independent’ anyway, so the ethical issue arising here is in charging cinema prices to view something calling itself a feature film. Well, fine: call it a commercial then. It’s a four-star commercial. And it’s bloomin’ lovely.”