Judy and Mike sitting on a log

Burden? As in “white man’s burden”? Ironically, no. There’s a white saviour theme running right the way through Andrew Heckler’s film but it actually takes its name from its key character, Mike Burden, a lifelong member of the Klan who saw the error of his ways.

With the flying of Confederate flags in the US an ongoing point of contention when this movie was released in 2018, Burden has timeliness on its side, and a core cast so accomplished most first-time directors would auction their mothers to get hold of them – Garrett Hedlund as Mike, Andrea Riseborough as the woman whose love makes him see the light, Tom Wilkinson as the local racist-in-chief and Forest Whitaker as the reverend fighting the good fight.

The action centres on a movie theatre, once upon a time a strictly “Coloreds Only” kind of place, which is now being turned into a Ku Klux Klan museum, complete with Confederate flag fluttering outside, by good ol’ boy Tom Griffin (Wilkinson), much to the disgust of the local black citizenry, vocally led by Reverend Kennedy (Whitaker). Burden is a repo guy who spends his days visiting poor people who haven’t been keeping up the payments on their TVs, but away from the day job is widely seen as the anointed successor of Griffin. Which is why the deeds to the building housing the theatre have been vested in Burden, so as to keep this South Carolina town’s cultural goad in white hands should anything happen to Griffin.

Hedlund plays Burden as so congenitally dumb and inbred that you can almost forgive his kneejerk racism as the actions of someone who knows no better. Judy (Riseborough) is Nobel laureate material compared to Mike, a thoughtful soul whose kid hangs out with the black kid of local man Clarence (Usher Raymond). It’s this relationship – Judy and Clarence – that is the pin on which this film turns, or it would be if Clarence weren’t just a cipher, as many of this film’s black characters are.

Reverend Kennedy outside the KKK Museum
Rev Kennedy outside the KKK Museum

Whitaker’s Rev Kennedy being the exception, a man of integrity, vigour and compassion who takes in Mike and Judy when they’re at a particularly low ebb and feeds them, thus eventually leading to a damascene conversion by Mike.

The film is set in the 1990s but Heckler deliberately makes the era a little hazy. It could be any time from the 1950s to the 2020s, and when a crowd gathers outside the KKK Museum at one point to protest, and chants “no justice, no peace” in an echo of Black Lives Matter the effect is only mildly anachronistic.

It’s a good looking film and well acted, with the cast all delivering more than was there on the page, but Heckler seems so concerned that we might sympathise with the wrong aspects of Mike and Judy’s characters that he leaves them under-developed – there’s just not very much to get hold of, particularly with Judy, who does little more than mope about when she’s not declaring her hot love for Mike.

Really this is all about Mike, who’s the only person to get an emotional arc, and even his is slow to get into gear. It’s only in the final act when Mike has to start fighting his way out of his corner that we start to get a real handle on his personality.

If drama is all about friction – between and within characters – it’s the element this undoubtedly heartfelt film could do with more of. Sanctimony hangs heavily on Burden, a two hour movie that would be vastly better with half an hour of running time removed. Which is something of a pity, since it’s a true story and one worth telling. The real Mike, Judy and the Reverend all appear over the end credits as a seal of authenticity.

Burden – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

The Full Monty

The full monty moment approaches in The Full Monty


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



24 October



World’s first football club formed, 1857

On this day in 1857, Sheffield Football Club was founded, in Yorkshire, UK, as an offshoot of a local cricket club. It is now considered to be the oldest still existing football club in the world. Over the years there have been competing claims from different clubs and from different forms of football – though we’re talking here about a football club not the game itself (American football goes back to the 1860s though rugby, on which it is based, goes back centuries before that; Australian rules football goes back to the 1860s). Sheffield FC played according to its own “Sheffield Rules” (which have since become the basis for all soccer) and was originally a “wandering” team, playing games wherever it could, there being a distinct lack of football grounds, obviously, and cricket grounds being reluctant to allow 22 marauding players wreck their turf. Later, Sheffield FC played periodically at Sheffield United Cricket Club (United because it was home to six cricket clubs), though relations with a management more interested in cricket were never good and in 1875 the club vacated the ground for good. Moving on to various grounds over the years – including recently the Don Valley Stadium – it eventually moved to the Coach and Horses pub in neighbouring Dronfield in 2001, where it was finally the owner of its own ground. The ground has a capacity of 2,089 and is unassumingly named “The Home of Football” Stadium. Apart from having, in essence, created the modern game of football, Sheffield FC have not troubled the record books in any other significant way. Their last appearance in the FA Cup competition (open to all UK teams from professional Premier League clubs down to amateur village teams) was in the 1880s.



The Full Monty (1997, dir: Peter Cattaneo)

Written by Peter Beaufoy, a Yorkshire man who knew whereof he spoke, The Full Monty follows a gang of Sheffield guys, once employed in the town’s now dead steel industry, as they seek to take a leaf from the Chippendales and start a male stripping act – except our gang are prepared to go “the full monty” rather than leave the exact nature of their sexual endowment down to the imagination of watching females (our guys having nowhere to hide without the padded budgie smugglers). Robert Carlyle, still fresh in the memory as the suicidally aggressive Begbie from Trainspotting, is the affable ring leader, Tom Wilkinson is the former foreman to whom Carlyle (and fellow recruits Hugo Speer, Steve Huison, Paul Barber and Mark Addy) turn to for dance lessons. If you haven’t seen The Full Monty, and it is a really charming heartwarmer, you have certainly seen a film like it. Riding on the tail of Brassed Off and borrowing a touch from the lighter end of Ken Loach (see Raining Stones), and adding a dash of Ealing comedy, The Full Monty was part of a run of British comedies in which down-at-heel working class types would find renewed self-worth via the application of a wonder ingredient (brass bands in Brassed Off; gardening in Greenfingers; cannabis in Saving Grace; musicals in Lucky Break; posing naked in Calendar Girls; electricity pylons in Among Giants – hey, it takes all sorts). The formula wore thin, wore out, but no one cranking out the films seemed to notice. And a film like The Full Monty, tarred with the same brush as the wannabes, but essentially a Bruce Springsteen song made visual (socially aware, potentially maudlin, a great kick in the tail) has suffered as a result. It doesn’t deserve it.



Why Watch?


  • Tom Wilkinson dancing
  • Feelgood that isn’t sickening
  • Great sight gags
  • C’mon, you’ve seen it


© Steve Morrissey 2013



The Full Monty – Watch it/buy it at Amazon






Gerard Butler and Idris Elba in RocknRolla


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



06 September



Idris Elba born, 1972

On this day in 1972, Eve Elba gave birth to Idrissa Akuna Elba, who shortened his name to Idris after starting school in London’s Canning Town. A big kid at school, Idris had the status that went with it, was good at sport, interested in music, keen on acting, where he found he had the self-confidence to “disappear into the character”. At 14 he was a pirate DJ. At 16 he was a theatre stagehand and also did night shifts at Ford’s Dagenham factory. In his early 20s the acting took off and he went from playing the rogue in Crimewatch reconstructions, to picking up regular bit roles in long-running British TV series such as The Bill and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries before moving to New York. In 2002 he got cast in The Wire, as Stringer Bell, and his life changed. Since then he has played Luther in the BBC series – TV’s angriest cop – and has worked in film with directors such as Tyler Perry, Danny Boyle, Guillermo Del Toro and Ridley Scott. He is about to play Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom. With Elba, you suspect his best work is still to come.



RocknRolla (2008, dir: Guy Ritchie)

It’s not big, but it is clever, Guy Ritchie’s film about London gangsters and Russian mobsters getting in a lather about a painting is an exercise in straight-faced hard-boiled laughs. Not unlike his other films in fact. But this time out Ritchie has the confidence to more or less dispense with trivial detail such as believable plot or character. Rocknrolla is the sort of film where you know the cut of a man’s jib from the style of his syrup (that’s wig, in rhyming slang), or his dress sense, where the aforementioned painting is introduced as the most transparent of Macguffins, and has just enough presence to compress the many characters together into something resembling a story. This is an exercise in preposterous characterisation, with Idris Elba and fellow Brit contingent Tom Wilkinson, Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton and Tom Hardy doing the majority of the work. Meanwhile the US contingent – the likes of Jeremy Piven and Ludacris – are stapled in, the most obvious of “one morning’s work, honest” contributions which Ritchie, again, does nothing to hide. Can you make a coherent film like this? No, but you can make one that’s a lot of fun.



Why Watch?


  • Mark Strong’s ridiculous hair
  • Another great criminal mastermind role for Tom Wilkinson
  • Thandie Newton playing an accountant
  • Ritchie’s best cockney, mockney, whatever film since… possibly ever


© Steve Morrissey 2013



RocknRolla – at Amazon





Essex Boys

Sean Bean and Alex Kingston in Essex Boys



Though not a perfect film by any means, this story about violent pill-dealing mafia wannabes has bags of flavour. It’s based on the Rettendon Range Rover murders, which saw two drug barons and their driver murdered in a car in the back of beyond, in December 1995. Four films have been made (as I write) about the events of that night but this is the first and it’s probably the best (though Bonded by Blood is tasty too). Quite why this one event has spawned so many fictional retellings is a mystery, though my personal theory is that a fair bit of smallscale film-making in the UK is more about laundering money than creating deathless art and that the Rettendon Range Rover murder victims were either known to many guys in the business, or possibly they see the whole episode as a “there but for the grace of god” warning. My pet theory aside, Essex Boys is marked out by a stand-up cast – Tom Wilkinson, convincingly hard as John Dyke, a Mr Big in genteel semi-retirement goaded into action by a gang of wannabes who think he’s gone soft. Alex Kingston and Charlie Creed-Miles also put in attention-grabbing turns. It was after this film, in fact, that Creed-Miles was tipped, in almost all corners, for the top. It never happened, though recently he has roared back in Dexter Fletcher’s great debut, Wild Bill. Sean Bean, swapping his Yorkshire accent for Essex, is also believably tough, as ex-lag Jason Locke, a kingpin-in-waiting who thinks he can outsmart Dyke. Think again, Mr Locke, and welcome to a world of pain, as adaptable Tom Wilkinson straps on a bloodcurdling snarl and prepares to hoist the double-barrel.

© Steve Morrissey 2013


Essex Boys – at Amazon