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by Charles Tatum

"Behind British Bars"
5 stars

The writing duo behind "Shank" return with a prison drama that features a few well-worn characters and situations, but morphs into a powerful film.

Jack (Daniel Brocklebank) is a defrocked British priest sent to prison. He tries to fit into life on the inside, becoming friends with his cellmate, young drug addict Rook (Wayne Virgo). Jack also finds a tentative romantic relationship with guard Martin (Garry Summers), who feels a higher calling to change the world inside prison just as Jack tried to change the world in his church.

The chief guard (Alice Keates) also has eyes for Martin, and not very good control over her staff. The other guards look away as Rook is beaten on the orders of creepy murderer Max (Bernie Hodges). As Jack tries to survive behind bars, and keep his relationship with Martin a secret, we find out why Jack was jailed in the first place, and what all of those strange dreams he is having really mean.

At first, Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin's script is disconcerting because it jumps back and forth in time. I couldn't get a grasp on Jack's character, and why he was in prison to begin with, despite some clues dropped here and there, until an emotionally devastating scene. This dramatic device is one of the reasons I really liked this film. While many viewers might feel manipulated by the film makers, I think the writers/directors were saying something about our assumptions. You read a synopsis about a priest in prison, and presume the film will be an anti-Christian "Oz"-like melodrama. Instead, an actual romantic love story is developed, but the underlying sense of dread never goes away.

Brocklebank is excellent as Jack. His character shows change between his days before and after being incarcerated, and Brocklebank is a strong actor. Summers and Virgo, both of whom were in "Shank," shine here as well. Martin is not a wide-eyed naive type, but he is sincere and accepts Jack despite his past. Virgo has a challenging role as Rook, who is easily led astray by Max, but his performance is the kind that many critics assign the overused word "brave" to. Hodges' Max is the scary murderer you have seen in other prison-based films. While Hodges is menacing, your deja vu will be overwhelming. The same could be said for Chief Guard Heather. Keates is fine, but if we had some footage of Heather at home, you can picture a dirty flat with a lot of cats and no love. Again, we've seen Heather before.

The direction is grand. The prison set is cold, dank, and you can almost smell the peeling paint and musty furnishings. I had a bit of trouble with Jack and Martin's initial interlude, and would have liked a little more in the way of their mutual attraction to one another. This is a prison flick, and I realize that almost all prisons have the same facilities. Therefore, I expected the shower scenes, the sad little library, the crumbling chapel, and the stern faced guards. This same familiarity was thankfully negated by the two main characters. I hope Flaxstone and Martin will do something in the supernatural realm soon. Some of their nightmarish imagery is creepier than any tortureporn slasher flick from the last few years.

If you read the end credits, you see that cast and crew had many different jobs on the set, but this did not take away from the final product. The film is short, yet takes its time developing its plot, which had me fascinated with where I was going to be taken next. This is not an overly plotty story, however, and most of the characters' motivations rang true.

"Release" is a great entry in many genres- prison, gay, British, romance, religious. Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin don't shy away from violence, and introduce jaded viewers to a whole new world of queer cinema.

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originally posted: 12/03/10 10:18:15
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  01-Oct-2010 (NR)
  DVD: 07-Dec-2010

  01-May-2010 (15)


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