A memorable film even if not quite the classic it might have been.



Ben Whishaw  


Ben Whishaw is one of the most talented of British actors and in Surge he is virtually on screen throughout in a role that is pivotal. Since his performance here could well be his best yet, it would be easy to assume that Surge is something of a one-man achievement yet in fact it is very much a shared enterprise. Stunning as Whishaw is, the impact of the work is equally reliant on the actual concept (the story is credited to the director Aneil Karia and the two writers of the screenplay, Rupert Jones and Rita Kalnejais) and on Karia's ability to express this so eloquently in what is his first feature film. Surge is indeed a film in which dialogue is in general far less significant than what is conveyed through its images (which in Whishaw's case involve facial expressions and body language) and the expert use of sound (that covers the very individual music score by Tujiko Noriko as well as natural sound used with absolute precision).


Whishaw plays Joseph who is something of a loner, lives on his own in North London, works in airport security and has a decidedly uneasy relationship with his elderly parents (Ian Gelder and Ellie Haddington). The film's opening scenes brilliantly suggest the routine of his job and the sense of just how impersonal crowded London can feel when experienced by someone like Joseph. It is a city in which he is swallowed up among the other daily commuters. Such early details as the way in which he bites down on a fork indicate nervous pressure. Then when he handles a glass similarly and it breaks cutting his lip that becomes the moment when he loses control over what he does (it's telling that his mother's only reaction to the accident is to say: "Don't you get blood on my carpet").


No longer behaving normally, Joseph goes berserk at work and is duly sacked. He is now in a state in which any little thing could push him right over the edge and it duly happens: a machine swallows his bank card and, being in need of £4.99 to buy a TV cable, he robs a bank in a sudden surge of defiant energy. As this reaction grows and builds, Surge becomes a study of Joseph’s breakdown brought on and shaped by modern life in the city. It's a grim but valid view presented vividly enough to make this one of the great films about London, albeit that at the same time it brings to mind another view of the downside of a city, New York as depicted in Taxi Driver. There is a further distant echo too since one thinks of the public's response to the invitation by Peter Finch's TV anchorman in Network to declare that they are as mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. That becomes pertinent because Surge, which might have been simply a film about one man's extreme breakdown, gains extra sympathy for Joseph by making us feel that the pressures on him inform the lives of most city dwellers to some extent, albeit with less dramatic consequences.


With Joseph's behaviour so much the focus, the role might have been one in which the actor concerned would have turned in a show-off performance, but Whishaw is so good in the part that he never lets it feel that way. What does lessen the impact is the sense that the writers lose their grip in the later stages. For example, when Joseph infiltrates a wedding reception it seems unlikely that he would be able to do so and in any case that scene adds little to the film. Furthermore, that is not the only episode that tends to fall short at this stage (even the final scene despite being reasonably apt could be more pointed to advantage). However, the disappointment is only strongly felt because for so much of its length Surge is both so unexpected and so powerful in its portrayal of urban life today.  




Cast: Ben Whishaw, Jasmine Jobson, Ellie Haddington, Ian Gelder, Ryan McKen, Victor Olamide, Bogdan Kominowski, Nish Nathwani, Laurence Spellman, Muna Otaru, Perry Fitzpatrick, Chris Coghill.

Dir Aneil Karia, Pro Julia Godzinskaya and Sophie Vickers, Screenplay Rupert Jones and Rita Kalnejais, from a story by Rupert Jones, Rita Kalnejais and Aneil Karia, Ph Stuart Bentley, Pro Des Alexandra Toomey, Ed Amanda Jones, Music Tujiko Noriko, Costumes Charlotte Morris.

Rooks Nest/BBC Films/BFI/Protagonist Pictures/Prism Media-Vertigo Films.
99 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 28 May 2021. Cert. 15.