Architectural grime infringes on the psychological equilibrium of modern denizens; no more so than in the grey, claustrophobic phenomena of the council estate ‘experience’. Greyhawk is an archetypical estate (the film’s namesake); an unwelcoming environment for anyone, let alone the film’s flailing, blind protagonist. This is neo-social realism in all its down-tempo misery.
A good 50 years since the ‘Angry Young Men’ movement perfected kitchen-sink realism, British cinema has revived this hard-hitting aesthetic of yore. Occasionally films like Harry Brown or Hyena subvert traditional realism with foreign genre elements and hyper-reactionary doom saying. These attempts at a darkened realism diverge from the tone and political in the recent, more faithful work, of Shane Meadows and Andrea Arnold.
Greyhawk is neither bleak agitprop, nor ideologically sympathetic to lower-class life. It straddles the realism and inter-character depth, of, say, a Fish-Tank, while avoiding the conservative sensationalism of an Eden Lake. What Greyhawk is, is a minimalist tale of a blind army vet, Mal (Alec Newman), whose personal mission is to find his guide dog after he realises local hoodlums have captured him.
Director, Guy Pitt, establishes the mood well, selecting dreary locations and using a combination of overhead shots with limited close-up work to reflect Mal’s disorientating POV. For much of the film, Pitt successfully arouses a sense of dramatic vulnerability. Mal traverses the concrete jungle, tentatively searching for steps and hand rails, and the viewer can only engage with his frustrations.
Guy’s brother, writer, Matt, has written such a sparse script, however, that Greyhawk lacks the social commentary and character intricacies commonly associate with the genre. Because of this, it shows an inability in addressing the issues it raises. The family unit in tatters; the terror of youth crime; even an out-of-place scene introducing a cheerfully helpful Hindu family, all end up undercooked.
However, Newman is a revelation as the lead role, evidently destined for great things. The film is strongest when Mal’s plight is intensifies, with Newman portraying a genuinely broken man who unconditionally loves his furry friend. The supporting cast is competent without being spectacular – after all, this is Newman’s show.
Greyhawk is a rewarding, yet at times, ponderous watch. Too often the narrative stalls, lacking the dynamism of a more propulsive script. Its lead and visual direction are commendable, and the soundtrack doesn’t swamp the film with distracting tracks, but it lacks the density of recent social realist films. This is a promising debut from the Pitt brothers, even if the rawness of their first-time feature writing holds the film back.