Mischief Night

Mischief Night


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Those of us from the right part of the country – a northern swathe stretching through Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Merseyside and beyond – will be all too familiar with the words Mischief Night. But for the uninitiated, let me explain. It is the night of November 4 – sandwiched between Halloween and Bonfire Night – when kids plot acts of petty (and occasionally not so petty) vandalism and householders keep their pets inside and their outside lights on, for fear that someone will nick their fence posts for the next evening’s fire or smear something nasty on their door handles. Many a municipal set of goalposts will be spirited away to be used as torchwood and several bonfires will get to burn out in an early blaze of glory. Basically, imagine Halloween without the treats.

It is against the run-up to this somewhat malign event that Penny Woolcock’s slice of Leeds life is set. Kelli Hollis plays Tina – a single mum with man worries, who TV audiences may recall from her previous small-screen outings Tina Goes Shopping and Tina Takes A Break.

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Tina lives on a run-down council estate with her three kids – all from different dads – teenager Tyler (Michael Taylor), under-10 Macauley (Jake Hayward) and tweenie Kimberly (Holly Kelly). Their current ‘dad’ figure (“he’s what we call a sperm donor,” says Tina in a narration which overlays the movie) is useless and on the verge of being kicked out, while the kids, in keeping with the rough area they live in, are equally rough around the edges.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the park, is the Asian area – showing how two communities which once lived side by side have, over the course of just one generation, slowly drifted apart. “Things were different then,” Tina tells Kimberley. “It were more mixed.”

In the Asian area Immie (Ramon Tikaram) lives with his extended family, including his little bro Asif (Qasim Akhtar) and a shipped-in-from-Pakistan nymphomaniac wife, for whom he has a thinly veiled dislike (“She doesn’t even speak English”). He and Tina know one another from school and as they rekindle their friendship Asif and Kimberley also begin to share a bond which, thanks to an unfortunate incident with a local drug dealer, could prove fatal.

Woolcock is using broad brushstrokes and many of the characters are pushed to the edge of caricature, but anyone who has lived in this sort of area of Leeds – myself included – will recognise the truth underlying the comedy.

Like the equally un-PC Borat - also released this week - Mischief finds humour in pushing the envelope of reality. Macaulay and his pals chat about their family - "My mum's a smackhead!" "My mum's a dinnerlady!"; Asian mums tell their kids they'll be "sent to Pakistan" if they don't conform; while Asif and his pals shout at passing Asian strangers "Get back to Pakistan!".

Sub-plots abound – from a Jihad-mad Imam’s threat to take over a mosque to Macauley and his pals planning Mischief Night tricks – and perhaps it would have been better served with fewer strands.

There are so many interlinking storylines it is impossible for Woolcock to give many of the characters enough depth although she certainly succeeds in showing how quickly divides spring up, not just between the white and Asian community but within the communities themselves. It is also a very timely consideration of these tensions, given that two of the London tube bombers came from this area of Leeds.

Drug dealing also abounds with everyone from old ladies to kids pushing smack. And it is, to an extent, tolerated, with the implication being – what is the alternative? Like the needle, these areas get under your skin.

Akhtar and Kelly, as the kids around which the story revolves, put in excellent performances. They were both cast ‘from the street’ but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more of them in the future.

This clearly isn’t intended to be a doom and gloom diatribe on the state of Britain today. There is a message of redemption, both for the communities – through the children and their parents – and also on an individual level. While Woolcock doesn’t excuse the yobbish behaviour of her characters, she does show how easy it is to become part of the cycle. But she never forgets that this is first and foremost a comedy – with the emphasis on farce. Despite its shortcomings the film whips along at such a mischievous pace, you are carried away on its wave of enthusiasm. It also might just make you think about a few more serious issues.

Reviewed on: 01 Nov 2006
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Riotous comedy that isn't scared to highlight social issues.
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Director: Penny Woolcock

Writer: Penny Woolcock

Starring: Kelli Hollis, Holly Kenny, Ramon Tikaram, Qaxim Akhtar, Michael Taylor, Jake Hayward, Christsopher Simpson, Gwyn Hollis, Sarah Byrne.

Year: 2006

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Leeds 2006
London 2006

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