Adapted from Jonathan Tulloch’s novel by award-winning writer and director Mark Herman (Brassed off, Little Voice), Purely Belter centres on two best friends, Gerry (Chris Beattie) and Sewell (Greg McLane). The two teenagers, inspired by their love of Newcastle United, do everything in their power to save the £1000 needed to buy themselves season tickets.
It would be easy to dismiss this upon first glance, but Herman is able to construct a screenplay that defies initial expectations. He deftly mixes hard-hitting social commentary – poverty, abuse and drugs are just some of the tough issues tackled – with a touching story of friendship, a desire to do better for oneself and madcap adventure.
It may feel a little too uncomfortable at times, but thanks to quick-cut editing and a punchy, if slightly overbearing, Brit-pop soundtrack, the overarching downbeat mood is interrupted by moments of pure satisfaction. These work in unison to elevate Purely Belter to more than a typically dispirited British kitchen-sink drama.
With their natural charisma and unrelenting optimism, even when various hardships present themselves, newcomers Beattie and McLane deliver pleasing performances as Gerry and Sewell. It’s in their double act that they shine, bouncing off one another with a terrific, cheeky energy that makes their friendship and quest so believable and poignant. They are, to all intents and purposes, the glue that holds the whole film together.
Purely Belter may not seem like a hit on paper, but the on-form cast, tenacious direction and diverse storytelling help it to become a wonderfully charming, funny and deeper than expected gem of a British film. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the word, but it deserves to be sought out and not simply overlooked due to its less-than-stellar credentials.