A few months ago Westminster council passed a bylaw that made it illegal to hand out free food, in an effort to shut down soup kitchens for the homeless – who were apparently an embarrassment for the Tory-controlled borough. It is now illegal to be homeless and hungry in Westminster.
Treacle Jr opens with a man called Tom running away from his comfortable life in the Midlands to live on the streets of London. Along the way he meets Aidan, who clearly suffers from learning difficulties. Aidan follows Tom from the hospital where they first meet.
But Tom is drawn into Aidan’s world and finds that life is not easy for him. He is mistreated, most immediately by his girlfriend Linda who takes advantage and abuses him, but also by a world which doesn’t want to know or care. His life is full of flashes of violence as his naivety and trust in people lead to confrontations.
At the heart of the film is the relationship between Tom and Aidan. As the pair become more involved, Tom starts to understand Aidan and we see the real pain people can face from those they trust. The director, Jamie Thraves, sees Aidan as the emotional heart of the film. He says that he “wanted the comedy to come from very real situations”.
Underneath this comedy is a stark warning of the way in which those who suffer mental health problems can be mistreated (just last month a Panorama programme for the BBC showed this happening horrifically in private care homes).
However, this part of the film made me uneasy. Much of the comedy seemed to derive from Aidan’s disabilities and strong lisp, instead of his relationships with others. Perhaps I am being too hard on Thraves but I feel that if the director wanted to make a comedy where the humour came from the relationship of the two this undermined it.
Treacle Jr was shot on a south London housing estate. Handheld cameras are used throughout giving the film a realistic and gritty feel.
We, the audience, are left to work out why Tom leaves his family and I feel this means that we never really empathise with him. The fact of the matter is that Tom is a man who has the means to return home should he so wish – but the reality for thousands of people sleeping rough on London’s streets is that they have no alternative.
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