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An Interview with Keith Allen: Hector, Christmas & Populism in Film
With the Holiday period behind us, Todd Waugh Ambridge reflects on a previous interview with actor Keith Allen, star of 2015's Hector; a film that presents the holidays from a rarely considered viewpoint in British Society
From Danny Boyle’s ‘Shallow Grave’ and ‘Trainspotting’ to recent roles in ‘Eddie the Eagle’ and ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’, Keith Allen’s eclectic career speaks for itself. In 2006 he landed perhaps his most iconic role: the Sheriff of Nottingham in the BBC’s ‘Robin Hood’ TV adaptation.
In November, I saw (and reviewed) ‘The Florida Project’; a socialist, populist film about the struggles of those on the breadline. It reminded me of Ken Loach’s 2016 hit ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and the seasonally-appropriate 2015 Christmas movie ‘Hector’, starring Peter Mullan and Keith Allen. Why is it that socialist and populist themes have become so prevalent in the cinema of our politically confused world? I got to sit down with Keith Allen himself at the bi-annual Birmingham MCM Comic Con and ask him a couple of questions about just that.
“I think it's a reaction to context which is austerity. And if you want to go further in to it, it would have its roots in Thatcherism,” Allen tells me, with a hint of disgust in his voice. A firm socialist, his political leanings were perhaps best encapsulated when, during the 2017 general election, he planted a banner on his Stroud nightclub reading ‘[The] cost of voting Conservative on June 8th[?] Your children’s future! Stop the rot.’ “Basically, I think that film always responds to what's happening in the world – or should do anyway – and that's what happened with both of those films.”
Allen is spot-on: Hector is a film about homelessness at Christmas, a crystal-clear response to the demonisation of the worst-off in our society. Peter Mullan plays the eponymous character as he travels the length of the country to visit friends at a shelter in London, encountering benevolence and malevolence from others along the way. The film’s director, Jake Gavin, who delivers on the film’s promise to give a grounded, realistic view of homelessness in the UK by focusing on a small number of characters and their personal struggles – the wider struggles and politics being kept out of the film. Each member of the shelter has found themselves in their position for a different reason, and struggles with it in a different way. Gavin responds to the overdone, offensive stereotype of the alcoholic, aggressive, anarchic ‘bum’ using Keith Allen’s character, who has all these traits but ultimately means no harm.
I asked Allen if he thinks these recent films are part of a wider reaction to the rise in right-wing politics in the West (i.e. that commonly coined ‘Trump and Brexit’). “I would hope so, yeah,” Allen responds, with far more optimism in his voice, “I think there's always been a history -- not so much in America now, but certainly in this country -- of a positive left-leaning reaction to what's going on. We've always done that. The Americans used to, but they don't tend to do it very much now I don't think; only because there's not such a big independent film industry as there used to be in the 70s.”
It’s important to cherish our independent film industry that produces films with clear visions rather than cash-cows to sell cinema tickets. Hector was released to a relatively quiet reception two years ago, it’s as heart-warming as it is thought-provoking – and it’s streaming now on Netflix.