Boyos in the hood

The run­away suc­cess of last year’s film ‘The Young Of­fend­ers’ has led to a TV se­ries and a whole new level of at­ten­tion in Cork

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE -

On lo­ca­tion with The Young Of­fend­ers

‘‘ I met this girl and she said told me there was a staff mem­ber in the wine bar across the street. His nephew is 10 years old and he watches the film ev­ery night be­fore he goes to bed. I thought that was so sweet. It’s al­most be­come part of the cul­ture

It is early Septem­ber and we are sta­tioned on a windy patch of grass in the north­ern sub­urbs of Cork city. I doubt film crews of­ten turn up in this part of the world. We should, thus, not be overly sur­prised so see kids in school uni­forms peer­ing ex­cit­edly over gar­den walls. Why wouldn’t older peo­ple pause on their way back from the shop? But the at­ten­tion is more rapt than you might ex­pect. There is a gen­uine sense of ex­cite­ment. It’s as if Brad Pitt or one of them mad fel­las was about the set.

A tall ac­tor in a track­suit (it’s not Brad Pitt) is shoot­ing an ac­tion se­quence. He runs up the hill be­fore swerv­ing left­wards in the di­rec­tion of the city. A se­cu­rity guard puffs up be­hind him and looks about in con­fu­sion. This hap­pens many times. As the af­ter­noon pro­gresses, the small crowd con­tin­ues to swell. When each new per­son ar­rives, we hear de­lighted mut­ter­ing un­der re­spect­ful breath. “It’s that the Young Of­fend­ers? It’s the Young Of­fend­ers.”

When Peter Foott’s The Young Of­fend­ers pre­miered at the 2016 Gal­way Film Fleadh few knew what to ex­pect. A mod­estly bud­geted com­edy about two Cork layabouts search­ing for a haul of drugs? Foott had done some good work on telly and had made some ter­rific shorts. It might pass the time.

The pic­ture played to howls of laugh­ter and went on be­come a smash at the do­mes­tic box of­fice. It later opened in the UK to more ex­cel­lent reviews. And it’s now be­ing made into a sit­com by the BBC. Nowhere was it more heartily cel­e­brated than its home city.

Hilary Rose, who plays the mother of the use­less Conor in the film and who is mar­ried to Foott, has been taken aback by the re­sponse in Cork.

“Ev­ery day we hear sto­ries of how pop­u­lar it

was,” she says. “I met this girl and she said told me there was a staff mem­ber in the wine bar across the street. His nephew is 10 years old and he watches the film ev­ery night be­fore he goes to bed. I thought that was so sweet. It’s al­most be­come part of the cul­ture.”

Alex Mur­phy and Chris Whal­ley play, re­spec­tively, the compact Conor and the lanky Jock as the most ami­able sorts of id­iot. They get up to ap­palling mis­chief, but their befuddled de­cency is never too far from the sur­face. No won­der Cork has em­braced its own lat­ter-day Lau­rel and Hardy.

Hilary’s char­ac­ter works in a ver­sion of Pat O’Con­nell’s fish shop in the city’s fa­mous English Mar­ket. You may re­mem­ber Queen El­iz­a­beth drop­ping in there dur­ing her state visit. Pat had a pic­ture of her Majesty be­tween the crabs and the tur­bot.

“Peo­ple used to come in and have their pho­to­graph taken with the photo of the Queen,” Hilary ex­plains. “He asked us for a signed poster. We asked him to put us up next to the Queen and he said: ‘No prob­lem’. We came in one day and said: ‘Where’s the Queen?’ He said: ‘She wasn’t as pop­u­lar. So we took her down.’”

Peter digs out his phone and shows us a pho­to­graph of crowds gath­er­ing round the cur­rent shoot in Cork City. When they made the film no­body paid the slight­est at­ten­tion. Now they can’t set up a light with­out start­ing a riot. Conor and Jock are faces of the zeit­geist.

The film’s suc­cess out­side Ire­land is more of a sur­prise. This is not to sug­gest the hu­mour isn’t univer­sal. The com­bi­na­tion of pathos and slap­stick has been a cin­e­matic sta­ple right back to the silent era. But the boys’ ac­cents are un­for­giv­ingly Corko­nian. For all that, the pic­ture – with­out the ad­di­tion of sub­ti­tles – has played to great reviews at the Fan­tas­tic Fest in Texas and the BFI Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val.

The se­ries, though made in co-op­er­a­tion with RTÉ, is driven by the BBC’s on­line chan­nel BBC Three. Did they ever ten­ta­tively sug­gest ton­ing down the ac­cents?

“Not at all,” Hilary says. “In fact the BBC were wholly sup­port­ive of keep­ing the core of it. The lan­guage hasn’t been changed. We are not think­ing: we’re play­ing to an English au­di­ence, will they get this joke? The film proved that wasn’t a prob­lem. There was a sub­ti­tled ver­sion of the film that wasn’t used. The BBC were hands off.”

Dizzy­ing speed

This is just the right route for an off­beat com­edy like The Young Of­fend­ers sit­com. Se­ries such as the hugely fash­ion­able Fleabag have pre­miered on BBC Three be­fore mov­ing on to the ter­res­trial sta­tions. Word is built up. Cult sta­tus is stoked. But how the heck did this hap­pen and how did it hap­pen so quickly? Foott and his team were shoot­ing the se­ries lit­tle more than a year af­ter the fea­ture pre­miered.

“When we were mak­ing the film we were sort of think­ing it seems like a waste that we’d cre­ated this world,” Foott says.

He men­tioned the no­tion of a spin-off to his agents and they be­gan set­ting up meet­ings in the UK. Chan­nel 4, Sky and the BBC all ex­pressed in­ter­est.

“Usu­ally you pitch your idea. They give you a cer­tain amount of money to write a draft. You get a bit more to shoot a pi­lot. But when we went back to the BBC they said: ‘We love it. We re­ally want to do it. Shoot it this sum­mer.’”

Hilary re­mem­bers an email com­ing in on a Thurs­day evening ask­ing them to “write, shoot and de­liver as fast as pos­si­ble”.

Aware that, like many come­dies, the film essen­tially tied off its nar­ra­tive stream at the close – en­e­mies be­came friends, con­fu­sions were clar­i­fied – Foott de­cided not to de­liver a for­mal se­quel. The se­ries is more of a re­make than a fol­low-on. Conor’s mum is once again an avowed en­emy of Jock. The cops are once more on the trail.

Still, the shoot has a very dif­fer­ent feel to it. There’s more money for a start. We have re­tired to a near-by GAA club for the high­light of any set visit: a de­cent lunch and plenty of mini-Mars bars. Alex Mur­phy, en­er­getic and ir­rev­er­ent, and Chris Wal­ley, a lit­tle drier in his hu­mour, are here to spread end­less good cheer. How has the larger bud­get af­fected the process?

“The cater­ing is a bit bet­ter,” Chris says. “Hav­ing a happy cast and crew is very im­por­tant. Food is a big part of that and it has def­i­nitely im­proved.”

“I wor­ried that film­ing would be less crack be­cause it’s big­ger and every­one may get more up­tight,” Alex con­tin­ues. “The big dif­fer­ence is ac­tu­ally that it’s more ef­fi­cient and you get things done a lot quicker. But there’s the same level of crack.”

The two guys ex­plain that once they pull on the Young Of­fender look – track suits and pud­ding-bowl haircuts – the char­ac­ters start to surge through their veins. They seem to en­joy a play­ful re­la­tion­ship that can’t help but as­sist in the de­vel­op­ment of such buddy-buddy com­edy. In­deed, they treat the in­ter­view like a dou­ble act. Some­one asks them how Jock would re­spond to the news that Cork has just been de­clared the least sexy city on earth. “Bull­shit!” Chris says. “It de­pends who they’re ask­ing,” Alex con­tin­ues. “Are they peo­ple in nurs­ing homes? But we’re not in Cork. We’re in Lon­don and Dublin.” “But now you’re back. So it’s changed.” There is ev­ery chance that new lev­els of fame are about to at­tach them­selves to our he­roes. We men­tioned Fleabag ear­lier. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, star of that show, is in the Han Solo film. Any­thing can hap­pen. But they’re not there yet.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing out in Cork and I put my coat in the cloak­room,” Chris says. “A group of girls walked past. I heard one of them say: ‘I thought that was the guy from The Young

Of­fend­ers. But it’s not. He doesn’t have curly hair.’ Ha, ha, ha!”

Let’s see if that qual­i­fied anonymity con­tin­ues. Shall we? ■ The Young Of­fend­ers se­ries begins on RTÉ2 on Thurs­day,Fe­bru­ary8that9.30pm

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: MIKI BARLOK

Left: Chris Whal­ley and Alex Mur­phy in the BBC/RTÉ co-pro­duc­tion The Young Of­fend­ers. Right: Whal­ley and Mur­phy with Hilary Rose, who plays Mur­phy’s mother in the se­ries.

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