No Surrender is a black comedy that, being set in the impoverished urban wastelands of Liverpool during the Thatcher years, is as bleak as it is funny. This era-specific context may be lost on some of this generation’s viewers, but its fast pace and witty script make it an enjoyable romp nonetheless.
The plot centres around the Charleston Club in Liverpool on New Year’s Eve, where Mike (Michael Angelis) is the new owner. He soon finds that he has to deal with the consequences of his predecessor’s terrible event organising skills, as various uncomplimentary guests and acts begin to arrive; these include a catholic club in fancy dress, a protestant club come to play bingo (see the impasse?), a magician with a dead rabbit and a band completely unsuited for the pensioner-aged guests. Worst of all, he can’t quit as the club is run by a violent local gangster.
Around the comical main plot, which sees Mike and his simple, no-nonsense doorman Bernard (Bernard Hill) try to prevent the evening from descending into chaos, there is a sub-plot where former Loyalist Billy, whose criminal past is merely hinted at, helps a former partner-in-crime hide from the police.
The combination of Mike’s sharp wit and Bernard’s dimness makes for a good comic pairing, and the sense that the night is doomed to disaster becomes increasingly apparent – and entertaining – as the film goes on. Yet there is also an underlying pessimism in No Surrender, which makes it go beyond being a comedy simply to amuse us.
We see disaffected youths trying to scrounge money in whatever ways they can (though this is made undeniably comical when a couple of kids try to rob a blind retired boxer). We see a microcosm of the troubles in Northern Ireland, as the mood between the catholic and protestant revellers becomes increasingly heated as the booze begins to flow whilst the atmosphere of the film becomes momentarily sombre as a group of mental patients makes its presence felt. It is only through the sharp-witted script and absurdity of the whole situation that No Surrender is not an utterly depressing experience.
That is, however, precisely what makes this film so brilliant and unique. It acknowledges the troubled times that it was made in, and in a ‘you have to laugh or cry’ situation, it opts to make us laugh. All the main characters, even dim doorman Bernard, have some degree of depth that makes them empathetic. As such, you’ll be rooting for all of them to make it through the chaos of the night, and the troubles of the times they’re living in.
Best scene: The final scene with the two rival groups singing outside the club. A sign of hope?
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