Dead Man’s Shoes (UK, 2004)

Axe murderer in Derbyshire?

What happens when you cross a revenge movie with British social realism? In this case you get a not entirely successful, but certainly interesting, film. Co-writer, with star Paddy Considine, and director Shane Meadows is renowned for his slices of working class life on estates, his handheld camerawork and ensemble acting lift a lid on an under-represented class in cinema. His This Is England (2006) is a particularly successful example.

On the face of it mixing a genre movie with the aesthetics of realism seems a great idea and I don’t think it ‘fails’ because of the execution. The bunch of slightly deranged, and vulnerable, characters are typical Meadows and are convincingly portrayed. And Paddy Considine is ‘as standard’ as a brittle and unpredictable character, at once warm and threatening. He returns to his home town, looking beautiful in the hills of Derbyshire, seeking revenge for the treatment of his mentally challenged younger brother.

Maybe it doesn’t quite work because genre and realism can’t gel. The former relies upon verisimilitude, the rules of the genre, to convince its audience, whilst the latter states this is a ‘slice of life’. By their nature, genres aren’t ‘slices of life’. However, that should not be an impediment to watching this well-made and ground-breaking film.


  1. Roy Stafford

    Hmm! “Genre and realism can’t gel.” That seems a very sweeping statement. Some genres can utilise forms of realism quite effectively I think.There is a school of thought (headed by John Hill) that sees Ken Loach as having made several ‘social realist melodramas’. I’m sure that there are several realist police procedurals and crime dramas – see my posting on The Man on the Roof. The second problem is the use of ‘genre’ as a tightly defined category. Surely we all agree that most films draw on more than one genre repertoire and that in some repertoires various realist tropes are part of the mix? So we now accept that moments of fantasy might crop up in what is otherwise a realist genre film. This is what happens in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

    I did enjoy Dead Man’s Shoes although I do remember it as very disturbing. It only got a limited release but immediately became something of a cult hit. It gave Shane Meadows a lift after the disaster of Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (perhaps he should have gone down the same route as Nuri Bilge Ceylan?).


    • nicklacey

      You’re quite right the Loach makes melodramas; I should have been more specific about the type of genres that might not gel with realism. Maybe it’s the specificity of the revenge-horror tropes that make it ‘grate’ against a realist aesthetic?


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