19 Mar 2022
Will Masheter and Will O'Keeffe
Bill Best, Dimeji Ewuoso, Nina Romain
In 2022 there aren't really any taboos left – non-binary gender; fluid sexuality; pro-choice rights; drug decriminalisation – are all pretty well accepted and making positive strides in the opening up of society. Yet there is one subject that still divides opinion and which has experts split down the middle – that of assisted dying.
Still, in this modern world, there are only certain places open enough to consider euthanasia as a gentle mercy, an honourable service or a human right. These places are not always easy to access and can be cripplingly expensive, meaning that like most things, the poorest in society are excluded from making their own choice while others can pay for their freedoms. In Community Service writer/director Will Masheter tackles this inequality head on in a short, visceral twenty minutes.
Hugh (Bill Best) is ageing and alone. His daily routine is simple and practical and he takes regular medication to keep his terminal condition at bay. There is nothing to Hugh's days and every action is a struggle for him. Out on the corner, at the edge of the estate, a small gang operates, with a young black man (Dimeji Ewuoso) as its leader. Hugh must pass these youths if he is to get to the shops for his daily bread, and it is hit or miss as to whether he will get by each day without an encounter. Life is hard for Hugh and some days the pain of living is too much for him to bear. He needs a friend, a good Samaritan, who can help him with no questions asked and who can provide him with the peace that he cannot find elsewhere.
Taken from a story by London care-giver Will O'Keeffe, Community Service strips bare the realities of a life not well lived. We struggle along with Hugh as the days unfold and nothing gets better and we look on helplessly as he fumbles around trying to keep the pieces of his life together. The black and white photography brings into sharp focus the bleakness of Hugh's life whilst at the same time reminding us of the myriad shades of grey attached to the issue being discussed on screen.
Bill Best puts in a dazzling turn as Hugh for his first on-screen performance, physically embodying the character from his cap to his slippers and showing an incredible vulnerability and quiet desperation through his facial expressions and body language. The fact that there is no dialogue heightens the performance from all characters, as the story is written across their faces, with no words ever being enough to convey the everyday tragedies they have suffered. Dimeji Ewuoso especially, conveys that tragedy and that toughness with a warmth and compassion that reaches out from the screen to touch at the hearts of the audience.
Reminiscent of current awards darling, Belfast (2021) the photography is pointed and considered with DoP Hugo Andre capturing the salient points of Hugh's bleak existence as well as the flicker of hope that eventually shines out of the darkness. Archie Jennings' score adds a lifetime of scope to the story, delivering sentimentality and nostalgia to an already emotionally charged situation whilst treading a fine line that never reaches into schmaltz.
Masheter has created an astounding piece of film that hits hard like a sledgehammer to the heart of the issue. His story strikes a blow for the little guy, under-represented and unfairly ignored, who just needs someone to listen to his requirements without having to invoke philosophy, ethics, morality or any other speculative ideals. The film performs its own Community Service in highlighting the disparity of freedoms and limits of life choices for the working classes, while portraying in a compassionate and gentle manner the way that community can provide for us in a way that wider society sometimes can't.
Hugh's situation is one that is repeated up and down the length and breadth of the country. Hopefully Will Masheter's film will help bring more people to the conversation so that those who currently suffer without any choice might talk to power and no longer suffer in silence.