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Bypass PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
24 05 2015

Directed by Duane Hopkins

Image When sorrows come they come not single spies, but in battalions...

Grittily painful, Bypass tells the story of Tim, a teenager trapped in an almost unbelievable conglomeration of difficulties. As if grinding poverty, an absent father, sick mother, brother in prison aren't enough, it gets worse - much worse. The death of his mother makes him head of his pathetically poor household and responsible for keeping his moody disturbed younger sister on the rails and out of care. The door is battered by bailiffs and unpaid moneylenders, and first gangs and then his now tagged brother are near at hand to offer/cajole/threaten him into petty crime. On top of this, he is victim to a strange and debilitating disease that makes him pass out and vomit and erupt into a nasty rash. And then his girlfriend gets pregnant.

Stylistically there's sometimes too much going on in the ‘symbolism' department - the stigmata-type aspect of Tim's disease is certainly a step too far. Tim's much better as an individual than a Christ-like representative of the suffering working class. Tim's girlfriend Lilly (Charlotte Spencer) is so impossibly sweet and optimistic that she seems to be inhabiting a different film. And while it's visually beautiful and striking, maybe too many shots are ‘poetically' rather than realistically conceived, whereas more naturalistic scenes - the hospital, the streets, are actually very powerful as they stand.

Too much misfortune, then, as some critics have pointed out? Well, yes. But once you're this poor, other terrible things do accumulate round you just as wealth generates itself around the wealthy. But it's not always melodramatically, over-artistically underlined. Duane Hopkins has a knack, as seen in his previous Better Things, for quiet, slowing-down moments, closing in on faces expressive of the inarticulated stuff going on beneath. So when the blinkered Lilly tells Tim he'd make a good father we see in his expression the distance between the real ideal possibility of that and its unlikelihood the way things actually are. Hopkins is also terrific at action sequences, the scenes in an unnamed Newcastle's anonymous arterial roads and dark places full of heart-thumping energy.

George MacKay, who shone recently as the nice young lad awakening into politics and gay awareness In Pride, is again adept at making a truly good person believable, though here he's harrowed and desperate - apparently he lost almost 2 stone for the role. His presence makes this potential overkill of disasters, which sometimes are in danger of becoming too much a parable of the harshness and hopelessness of working class life today, actually involving and moving.

There's a special screening of Bypass at the Tyneside Cinema with an introduction by George MacKay on May 26. Definitely worth catching.

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