At a time when British politics is obsessed with questions of immigration, national identity and cultural 'values', there is one community group that has been pushed out of the discussion: Irish Travellers. At one point they dominated the cultural conversation and the story of a group in Dale Farm, Essex was elevated to a pseudo moral-panic. But since the rise of UKIP and the Scottish referendum their culture has seemingly dropped from the national conversation.
Director/writer David Campion’s Woodfalls attempts to objectively explore the tensions that arise over a number of days when a family of travellers moves into an insular rural Dorset village and comes into conflict with the locals.
Billy (Matthew Ferdenzi), a traveller who lives in a caravan with his sister Rebecca (Michelle Crane) and his maa (Maggie Daniels), gets into a vicious fight one night in a pub with local thug Damon (Gareth Bennett-Ryan) who he manages to antagonize with his fighting skills. Damon swears revenge but heads home to his abusive drug-dealing father. Meanwhile Billy makes friends with Bradley (Tyron Maynard) who invites him to a house party with a petty dealer Wozzle (Joe Law) and Kelly (Rachel Marwood), Damon’s ex-girlfriend.
As Billy becomes more integrated with the locals, his sister Rebecca becomes jealous and tries to integrate with them too, which leads to a spiral of tragic events as prejudice and cruelty collide with devastating consequences.
Campion could easily be to the South of England as Shane Meadow’s was to the Midlands, especially the scene in Woodfalls with pig masks that feels like a loving homage to the memorable gas mask scene in Dead Man’s Shoes. Both directors take the often neglected small towns and cities that most British people live in but rarely see on screen, and show the threatening and isolating underbelly of the countryside and the petty thugs and gangs that exist there. This is a rural England as far away from the Antiques Roadshow and Songs Of Praise as you can get.
Campion’s narrative is designed specifically to aggravate mainstream sensibilities, as none of the characters are particularly straightforward or ‘moral’. The viewer’s empathy for characters rises and falls in waves at different moments in the fragmented narrative. At one point Wozzle is a loveable, ginger Shaun Ryder pastiche and then later he shows a much darker side; Damon at first appears like a knife-wielding thug, but then as you see more of his environment his character becomes more complicated.
Watching the film in the cinema gives an extra punch to the Gasper Noe-esque title sequences – bold pink on a black background cut to electronic music, which itself deserves a mention as the gritty score adds a dark urban sensibility to the small-town rural locations. (A particularly inspired Bad Ass remix is used to great effect in the middle of the film.)
On a budget of only £10,000 Woodfalls achieves more than almost any other British film that I have seen released by a big studio this year. It is the kind of film that if I had seen as a teenager in the mid ‘90s on Channel 4 after midnight, it would have warped my mind and become an instant personal cult classic. Needless to say, I utterly loved this movie…