‘One for the Road’ (2003) Blu-ray review

❉  An overlooked, grubby Brit-flick gem that gave Hywel Bennett his final significant film role.

I’m pleased to say that Powerhouse’s Indicator series has unearthed a somewhat overlooked, grubby gem from the early 2000s in One for the Road, a comedy that at the time was described by one reviewer as ‘The Full Monty meets The Office’. A tale of four disparate and desperate men who, having committed drink driving offences, have been thrown together on a mandatory alcohol awareness class and feel a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog compulsion to distinguish themselves in the desperate dying spasms of their toxic masculinity. It may not sound funny, but it is. And it is funny because it has something honest and real to say. It did back then in 2003, and I think it still does now, in these post #MeToo times, so I am really glad to see this extras-laden Blu-ray release and I hope it finds a wider audience.

Jimmy (Gregory Chisholm) is young, ambitious but ultimately naive. Having recently lost his father, he’s determined to make a success of the family business when he finds himself driving over the limit; Paul (Rupert Procter) has been salesman of the year three times running…but that was five years ago now and he’s no longer teetering on the abyss of functioning alcoholism, he’s up to his neck in it and likely to lose his family; Mark (Mark Devenport) is an amiable taxi driver whose livelihood is on the line because of his fondness for weed and cheap cocktails; and Richard (Hywel Bennett) is a lonely, bluff, retired millionaire property developer who is said to see everything as a networking opportunity, even this rehab course run by the patronising Ian (Jonny Phillips). It isn’t long before Paul, Mark and Jimmy begin to wonder if they can get into Richard’s good books enough to share some of his wealth. A plan is hatched to effectively pimp out Jimmy’s widowed mother Liz (Julie Legrand) to Richard and have Jimmy appeal to his paternalistic side enough for him to buy the family warehouse, but Jimmy is torn between chasing the money and following his heart, in the shape of Eve (Micaiah Dring), the barmaid at the pub which the devious group retreat to the moment the class is over.

One for the Road is a product of the kind of loose, scuzzy improvisational style of another Nottinghamshire based filmmaker, Shane Meadows. Like the director of bona fide, turn of the century British classics This is England and Dead Man’s Shoes, Cooke also has a very distinctive, almost on-the-fly visual style, consisting of minimal lighting, DV hand-held camera work and some judicious editing. And just like Meadows, Cooke assembled performers with innate raw talent and an ability to think on their feet honed from their experiences at the renowned Central Junior Television Workshop; an organisation originally set up in the early 80s by Central Television as a casting pool for young talent in the region, offering training in performance skills for young people. Glance at any name in the credits of any number of Shane Meadows films – Vicky McClure, Andrew Shim, Perry Fitzpatrick, Joe Dempsie and Michael Socha -and they are formerly students from the Workshop, with Samantha Morton, Toby Kebbell, Molly Windsor and Jack O’Connell also having cut their teeth there too.

As well as casting people from that vibrant, creative Midlands scene, Cooke also afforded that great actor of film and TV Hywel Bennett his final, significant film role before his retirement from the screen in 2007 and his death ten years later at the age of 73. Once a beautiful, doe-eyed ‘60s youth, Bennett formed a distinctive partnership with the equally unaffected beauty of Hayley Mills in a trio of memorable films from the Boulting brothers; The Family WayTwisted Nerve and Endless Night. Small screen fame came to Bennett in the late 1970s and early ‘80s with the lead role in ITV sitcom Shelley, but by the time that that show ended in 1992, middle age, the effects of alcoholism and a thyroid condition saw him lose his Pan-like appearance. Undeterred, Bennett seized with relish a string of unsavoury roles a world away from his pretty boy past and the role of Richard Stevens, an overweight and overconfident member of the nouveau riche is certainly one of them, with a sequence emulating the naff trappings of a video dating agency that sees him appealing for a young, foreign bride certainly capturing the kind of ick Bennett was, by that stage, renowned for. It’s a wise and canny move from Cooke to cast such a contrast to his more rough and ready players, as Bennett grounds the film enough to ensure that they are rightfully competing in his orbit in the same manner of the characters, but that’s not to take anything from actors like Chisholm, Devenport and Procter who are never for one moment outshone by the older star. The casting is nothing short of perfect, with each actor upping their game and bouncing off one another to deliver the goods.

A film about the perils of confusing chasing money with chasing dreams, and how empty that can make someone feel, One For The Road is a deeply plausible experience with horribly real, desperate characters such as the wheedling salesman Paul, who would screw anyone over to steer himself clear from the skids, played to truthful perfection by Rupert Procter, who had given up the drink in real-life a decade prior to this remarkable performance. A very truthful film, it’s one that will hit a little too close to home for any one of us who has at one time or another ever found solace in several glasses when depressed, beaten or just cast adrift by life for a prolonged period of time. The bonds that unite these flawed characters, exemplified by the ever-present pint and by the resentment they now feel at being placed on the rehab course, are skilfully conveyed and identifiable. Whilst it can sometimes be hard to witness the rut – fuelled by drink and desperation – that they find themselves in, it can also be very darkly funny too – with the comedy coming from just as truthful a place.

One for the Road remains the only full-length feature from Cooke and that’s a real shame. For my money, he had, and indeed has, it in him to have been just as good as Meadows but, despite a string of ideas for future projects (explored in one of the many Blu-ray extras), it was somehow not to be. Maybe it’s because One For The Road is a film that doesn’t shy away from the grubby and ignoble aspects of its characters and, as such, it’s perhaps a victim of its own uncompromising authenticity that it didn’t find the audience it deserves. I really hope it does now with this Blu-ray release.

And what a Blu-ray it is. There’s a wealth of extras here, including two short films from Cooke and a further three from One for the Road actor Mark Devenport too. Each of them are incestuous affairs, with many of the One for the Road gang appearing either before the camera or operating behind it. Indeed, Cooke even has a credit as a gaffer on one of Devenport’s offerings. Predating One for the Road are Map of the Scars (1998) and Shifting Units (2001); the latter is essentially a dry run (pun not intended. Well, not much) for One for the Road, introducing as it does Rupert Procter’s cleaning supplies salesman Paul and the themes of the subsequent feature length project. Map of the Scars sees Cooke return to his native Jersey – and Bergerac it ain’t. It stars Andrew Tiernan as a disenfranchised, alcoholic young man teetering on the abyss (an idea Cooke would return to again and again) using his physical scars as a means to plot the course of the Channel island.Devenport’s 2003 film Why I Hate Parties (But Pretend to Love Them) is a funny and recognisable short centring around David Hoare’s Colin and his efforts to socialise at a house party. The internal monologue is both clever and funny, reminding me of Peep Show. 2014’s Gary the Rapper vs Stefan Blix sees One for the Road‘s composer Stefan Blackman star opposite Midlands rapper Dean Palinczuk, better known as Scorzayzee, who starred in Shane Meadows’ final narrative cinema release feature, Le Donk and Scorzayzee from 2009.

My favourite of Devenport’s shorts however is the most recent, Whiskers and Jane from 2016. Starring Rupert Procter as a middle-aged former rocker and Cosima Shaw as his partner, the film explores the slowly dawning realisation that the spark is missing from their relationship and follows Whiskers’ attempts to reignite it. As ever, Procter exudes a sense of befuddled vulnerability that is wholly endearing and manages to do so much with just a look. The whole thing reminded me a little of Steve Coogan’s much missed sitcom Saxondale – and that’s a good thing.

Further extras here include a really insightful retrospective entitled One for the Road: An Oral History. Reuniting the key players from both in front and behind the camera, it’s full of anecdotes for what seemed to be a fun-filled if somewhat difficult shoot. The sense of brotherhood each has is for one another is palpable throughout and it is easy to see why this group have continued to work together in whatever guise time and again across the twenty years since this film was made. Video Diaries from 2003 is a twenty minute short that focuses on Cooke’s attempts to develop further film projects in the wake of One for the Road‘s release, including a road movie taking in a journey from France to Nottingham following a bereavement and a comedy about wrestling which, let’s face it, would have been better than 2018’s dismal, big-screen Benidorm style ‘comedy’ Walk Like a Panther starring Meadows regular, Stephen Graham. Workshop Footage and Character Development showcases how the characters and themes of One for the Road came together via improvisation exercises and there are two commentaries for the film, one with Cooke and producers Kate Ogborn and Helen Solomon, and one with actors Devenport, Procter and Chisholm. Commentaries are also included on the two shorts made by Cooke that accompany the film. Finally, the Blu-ray comes with a limited edition 36-page booklet featuring archive press reviews concerning One for the Road and interviews with Cooke and a new essay on the film from Thirza Wakefield.

❉ ‘One For The Road’ (2003) was released on Limited Edition Blu-ray 25 April 2022 via Powerhouse/Indicator Series (#PHILTD249), BBFC cert: 18. RRP £15.99. Click here to buy from Amazon UK.

❉ Mark Cunliffe is a regular contributor to The Geek Show and has written several collector’s booklet essays for a number of releases from Arrow Video and Arrow Academy. He is also a contributor to Scarred For Life Volume Two: Television In The 1980s, now available to buy in paperback, £19.99, and as a full colour Ebook (PDF format) £6.99.

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