I’ve always been fond of good old fashioned British crime films, even when it’s the sort that fail to reach cinema audiences and go straight to disc, so when I heard the synopsis for Steven Nesbit’s feature debut, I was intrigued to say the least. Marketed as a gangster version of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet love story, ‘North v South’ bears witness to a gangland war between the opposing geographical clans of England. You have the Northerners headed up by hard man John Claridge (Bernard Hill), and the crafty cockneys with cuddly-on-the-outside-evil-on-the-inside Vic Clarke (Steven Berkoff) as their villainous ringleader. A brutal killing adds fuel to the fire between the rival gangs, which brings danger to the ‘star-crossed lovers’ Terry (Elliott Tittensor) and Willow (Charlotte Hope). Will their relationship be exposed to the feuding families they are part of, or will love prevail?
From the off, the low-budget production value of the project became evident due to amateurish opening titles, and there is a cheapness that lets down the film throughout. Flutters of creation show promise but are incoherently flung together around a narrative that is riddled in cliché. There is a string of Guy Ritchie-esque interesting characters alongside the core players in the gang war, such as Alf, a children’s entertainer with criminal associates and Gustave, a cross-dressing deadly hitman, but unfortunately nobody really has anything interesting to say due to a shoddy script. The Romeo and Juliet element is problematic and feels like an overly dramatised afterthought that has been wedged into another film altogether.
Brad Moore raises the acting bar and his performance as the psychotic Gary Little is one of the redeeming features of the film, and could quite happily sit alongside the highest calibre of gangster movies. Elliott Tittensor is strong as well in the romantic lead part and delivers the kind of voiceover you’d hear if Martin Scorsese directed a feature length episode of Shameless. The aforementioned Bernard Hill and Vic Clarke are convincing as the mob bosses, and possess genuinely threatening menace. In fairness, most of the performances are solid enough given the stereotypical character development.
Steven Nesbit takes an ambitious yet appealing concept that could’ve been brilliant if handled in the right way, but doesn’t pull it off. The lack of storytelling structure means that subplots are tossed around and there is an obvious misdirection. There are nice aesthetic moments taking genre influence from films such as Bonded by Blood, Rise of the Footsoldier et al, but the combination of romance and violence never clicks into place. As a crime film, it sort of nearly works and as a love story, it isn’t really given a chance, though in this battle of ‘North v South’, there are no winners.