A film about raves proves to be a film to rave about.


Lorn Macdonald


Even the very best of independent British movies can find it difficult to achieve wide bookings, but it is to be hoped that Brian Welsh's second feature, Beats, will pull it off. If it does so, it will doubtless be due not so much to its actual quality, exceptional though that is, but on account of the fact that its energy has justifiably led to comparisons being made with the original Trainspotting (1996): that's the kind of tag that can draw an audience and if it does they won't be disappointed by Beats.


The writer here is Kieran Hurley who has converted his stage play into something far more developed and entirely cinematic. The adaption was encouraged by Welsh and one senses a rare union between writer and    director in bringing to life a totally persuasive portrayal of young people in Scotland in 1994. The date is specific: a parliamentary bill had been proposed which would soon be put into law prohibiting the gatherings which, featuring loud and repetitive music as described in the bill, drew youngsters to free raves often held out of doors. Beats introduces us to friends who in the film's second half will attend just such an event at which point the very effective black and white photography breaks out into flashes of colour.  Like the rest of the film, this is brilliantly filmed although from my own point of view the fact that these later scenes celebrate such raves and the drug taking that went with them raises certain moral doubts (the fact that the violence of the police who intervene is emphasised adds to the one-sidedness here).


But, if one puts that aside, Beats is to be welcomed as a contender to become this year's Best British Film. Hurley's screenplay brings his characters fully to life - in particular the two friends who are the central figures. They are Johnno (Cristian Ortego) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald). The former still lives with his mother (Laura Fraser) but is at odds with her new partner, a policeman (Brain Ferguson). No less he resents his mother’s dismissal of Spanner as scum, a reaction influenced by the fact that Spanner's brother, Fido (Neil Leiper), is something of a psychopath. Indeed, when Spanner steals cash belonging to Fido the fact that they are brothers will not protect him. The rebellious yet not insensitive Spanner is a striking creation while Johnno, the more conventional youth who nevertheless allows him to become his mentor, is a more familiar figure. However, both Ortega and Macdonald are magnificent and bring their characters vividly to life. Welsh's direction is striking (only the very occasional use of shots speeded up or slowed down strikes me as a misjudgment). Furthermore, as I have indicated, the writing is never less than first class (it is the smallest detail but how perfect it is when we learn that a young DJ who proudly calls himself D-Man (Ross Mann) is actually named Derek). If the later scenes will appeal most to those with happy memories of raves, there is so much here of exceptional quality that Beats demands the widest possible audience.




Cast: Cristian Ortega, Lorn Macdonald, Neil Leiper, Laura Fraser, Kevin Mains, Ross Mann, Brian Ferguson, Rachel Jackson, Amy Manson, Martin Donaghy, Ryan Fletcher, Gemma McElhinney.


Dir Brian Welsh, Pro Camilla Bray, Screenplay Kieran Hurley and Brian Welsh, based on Kieran Hurley's play, Ph Benjamin Kracun, Pro Des Victor Molero, Ed Robin Hill, Music Stephen Hindman and Penelope Trappes, Costumes Carole K. Millar.


Rosetta Productions-Altitude Film Entertainment.
101 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 17 May 2019. Cert. 18.