Immediately the film was over, what the audience wanted to know was simple: what happened to Ritchie?
It was a testament to the story-telling abilities of the team behind 360° Man that the crowd gathered in Springhill prison’s cafeteria to watch a special screening of this Kestrel production were so engrossed by what they had just seen that what they needed to know was the fate of one of its characters.
“Ritchie?” said Sam, who plays the film’s sinister villain. “Let’s just say he’s moved on.”
To which the audience response was immediate. “Sequel, sequel, sequel,” they chorused.
Though there wasn’t a red carpet in sight, here at the premier the sense of pride in the film was palpable. Under a snowdrift of popcorn, inmates and officers, together with a number of outside guests, had gathered to see this Kestrel production, played out on a hired-in cinema screen.
The movie had been made by six of the cast who had been involved in Blood and Water, the Kestrel show which had been performed by the men at the Royal Court Theatre in London in the autumn of 2016. With the support of film and theatre professionals – including a masterclass from the film director Vicky Jewson and her producing partner Rupert Whittaker – the team adapted the piece for the screen. As they worked – through improvisation sessions and under the auspices of the script editor Ivan Levine – the plot developed substantially. In essence, when shooting began after three weeks of intensive preparation, this was a wholly new drama.
Filming took place in the prison over a three-day period in the spring of 2017. Beautifully shot by the cinematographer Ian Nelson, the six central characters, augmented by 15 additional cast members, played out the dramatic tale of Sol Brown, a former gangster who had made a solemn pledge to his dying wife that he would bring up their son Kane without returning to crime.
Financial pressures, however, soon began to impinge. And even as Kane was becoming ever deeper embroiled in criminality, Sol found himself lured back into Ritchie’s web. With telling consequence.
Expertly packaged by the editor Rob Burchell of The Hall into a vibrant, powerful 20 minutes, the film was uproariously received. Comical moments in the Job Centre and when the bad guy chomped on a Jenga-style tower of pink wafer biscuits, were greeted with echoing guffaws. The music – specially composed by prison musicians and melded into place by sound designer Max Perryment – got toes tapping and heads nodding. The dramatic moments were met with rapt silence. And the ending received a rousing ovation.
As is the tradition at premieres, the film was followed by a question and answer session. Three members of the cast were invited forward to deal with queries from the floor. These were many and various, from the script-writing techniques and characterisation to the number of takes required for the biscuit-eating scene (several apparently). And all three of the men suggested that when they were released, acting is something they would like to pursue.
As the animated, enthused, inspired audience filed out of the cafeteria, what was evident was that the Kestrel methodology – using outside professionals to guide and nurture prisoners’ creative talent and ability – had once again delivered substantial results. This is not a production that will be quickly forgotten. Roll on the sequel: Whatever Happened to Ritchie?