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Northern Scum: 5 Northern Crime Films

A guide to five films full of crimes, capers, crossings and bloodshed: all set in the North of England. The proper North.

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Crap house.

Jack Carter dismisses the North’s capital in two words, his cockney twang slicing through the red-brick and rain to strike at the heart of Get Carter's grimy gangster-flick setting. And the thing is, everything we’ve seen of 70’s Newcastle up to this point validates his judgement: rich villains in suits and fur gamble high stakes in country manors whilst deeper in the city boozers drag their feet across grey pavements. The notion of “fair and square” is demolished; if anything is clean in Newcastle it certainly isn’t the money. A violent nihilism and a hollow, howling wind pervades the declining quayside industry to create a barren land, perfect for crooks to crawl to and nest.

Behind the footy and lager lurk gangsters, guns, bastards of business and malicious maidens: it’s grim up North and these movies are here to show the despicable depths these hometown heroes can reach.

Newcastle’s muddled roads are as difficult to manoeuvre as the puddled streets: everyone knows it’s a nightmare to get into the city on a busy day, but it’s perfect for a robbery on the road. Without a Geordie accent for miles, Payroll brings a little noir sophistication home to familiar sights as heat rises, gangs double cross and wives take revenge. Sure, it’s no Italian Job but a certain amount of joy can be taken in watching armoured vans speed past Grey’s Monument, the police in hot pursuit.

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You’ve never seen the toon like you’ll see it in Stormy Monday: neon-soaked, decorated in synths and jazz and cheesy as hell. With a far suaver, foggier nightlife than a typical Geordie is used to – whiskey on the rocks and Otis on the jukebox – Sean Bean, with George Michael haircut in tow, is caught between Sting’s benevolent ways and Tommy Lee Jones as conniving entrepreneur, Cosmos, self-described surgeon for “this once great area”. And that seems to be a common thread for the foreign villain in these films… the city may be in ruins, but it's ripe for the greedy to buy up what remains.

Moving to the country to escape these cronies, however, will take you out of the frying pan and into the fire as Northumberland’s scenery offers its own peril in Lady Macbeth's murderous moors. Towering country estates laden with mud and mist hide sex and blood in a countryside thriller that shows the brutal side of the North’s austere past. “The middle of nowhere” can offer as much liberty as it can confinement and suspicion travels fast on these chilling winds – especially when the air is thick with betrayal.

And coastward, as the tide rushes in and vodka pours on Lindisfarne, the meek and the mannered will turn mad in Cul-de-Sac. Sporting a wholly underappreciated Donald Pleasance performance, Polanksi’s second English language film throws Macbeth, Sexy Beast and Straw (and Reservoir) Dogs into an idiosyncratic, comedic soup. Northumberland’s deserted anachronism serves as the perfect landscape for these unorthodox ingredients to stew and boil over into bizarre, jazzy brilliance.


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