Directed by Stephanie Zari
Starring Stephen Graham, Adam Perryman, Ryan Barr, Kieron Bimpson, Elena Stephenson
Short Film Review by Jack Bottomley
Our mistakes can sadly linger as prominently as our fondest memories. No matter how much time passes and how many happy moments we live, there will always be those perceived mistakes that spring to mind at points and for some this can be worse than it can for others. Being Keegan, adapted from Jilly Gardiner’s award winning play (and written by Gardiner) and directed by BAFTA shortlisted Stephanie Zari, is about a mistake but is also about the spiralling effects loss and loneliness can take.
The plot focuses on Jay (Stephen Graham), a lonely man wandering the street and plagued by memories of his youth. A youth with early fond memories of friendship but one which was all changed by one tragic mistake. Opening with Trainspotting esque eclectic camerawork early on, Being Keegan immediately captures the attention and initially reminds of T2: Trainspotting with its flashes of childhood footballing memories. Indeed, the title of the short film does take some time to truly sink in, despite the Liverpool setting and early archive footage of Kevin Keegan, it is not really until the latter third that the title’s true meaning comes to focus (though by then some may have guessed). Admittedly Zari’s film takes some time getting there and its constant jumping throughout Jay’s boyhood and adolescence, alongside his isolated adulthood does mean the film feels to meander a tad before getting to the point.
It does seem as though the style occasionally takes over the relatively simple plotting but the key is really in the narrative tie-up and once it arrives, some of what came before is validated. The pacing may not be for everybody but Being Keegan is ultimately a story with an honest amount to say about how a life can be afflicted by guilt and the pain of loss. The film presents a depressing but relatively truthful story of being attacked by your memories and allowing them to isolate and strand you from living life.
Stephen Graham as Jay is pained and beaten down by life, his dialogue is relatively indecipherable (a tonic of a strong accent and muffled whispering) but physically his character is very well displayed. Jay’s soul and inner turmoil is evident in his sorrowed gaze and worn down, sleepless, shuffling mannerisms. Graham is great (as he usually is, be it in Pirates of the Caribbean or Boardwalk Empire) but it is the younger cast that deliver some of the film’s most striking performances. Despite having less screen time, Kieron Bimpson as a teenage Jay is very emotive and harnesses the troubles of his character’s turbulent street life and inner feelings very well. While Adam Perryman as a young Jay and Ryan Barr as his friend Sean are the standouts, bringing to screen a realistic young streetwise brotherhood, moulded by adventure, defiance and footie. Both youngsters really sell the films poignant punch and while tenured viewers of coming of age tragic dramas will have a good idea where the film is heading after a while, when it arrives, the results are still powerful thanks to Graham’s tortured commitment and the youngsters’ established scenes of friendship (the shorts most effective scenes bar none).
Zari’s film has its faults but is a strong look at grief, loss and the destructive power of guilt and memory and with a setting well realised by Brian Strange’s photography and a story given a degree of gravitas by Stephen Gallagher’s score, Being Keegan works well, even as it occasionally goes about getting to its destination in a long-winded and style centric fashion.