News that Sheffield-based production house Warp Films – purveyors of edgy, gritty flicks starring psychotic skinheads, serial killers, roving assassins and drunken rapists – is to move into family fare might come as something of a shock for its fans.
After all Warp, as personified by a team that includes Shane Meadows, Paddy Considine, Chris Morris, Peter Mullan, Stephen Graham, Richard Ayoade, Riz Ahmed, Neil Maskell and supremo Mark Herbert, is not known for its lightweight movies.
But everybody grows up and it’s clear from comments made by father-of-three Herbert that he and his comrades have matured. Thus he has optioned Wild Boy, Rob Lloyd Jones’s novel of a murder investigation set in Victorian London, which he devoured on a train journey from Yorkshire to London and instantly adored. In 2012 Warp celebrated its tenth birthday. A decade on from a £20,000 grant from Screen Yorkshire, which set the ball rolling, it has both an enviable reputation as one of the UK’s top indie producers and a back catalogue that is as unique as it is uncompromising.
Warp’s debut Dead Man’s Shoes in 2008 brought Shane Meadows in from the cold after the catastrophe that was Once Upon a Time in the Midlands. It also gave Paddy Considine an opportunity to cement himself as one of the UK’s most exciting talents.
The titles that followed carried the Warp trademark – impossible to pigeonhole. Think This is England and Donkey Punch via Kill List, Submarine and the triumph of Four Lions.
Look closely at Warp’s films and deeper themes become evident. The lonely kid at the heart of This is England is mourning his soldier father, killed in the Falklands War, and seeking a substitute. The avenging angel in Dead Man’s Shoes arrives in his home town to do right by his younger brother. And in Tyrannosaur a violent loner drenched in alcohol reconnects with his common humanity over a vulnerable stranger.
Warp represents a new breed of Brit flick. In the 21st century it is as impressive – and as important – as any of the companies that existed during that halcyon period of the late 1940s, into the ’60s. Think Ealing, Hammer, British Lion, ABPC, Wessex, Boulting Brothers, Beaver, Amicus and Tigon. Warp represents their modern equivalent.
Warp’s mission statement was based around a specific credo: to make “bold and innovative films”. Herbert has never deviated from that. And when his children ask him about the content of films like Donkey Punch – a kinky sex game goes wrong – he responds with plans to make a family film. As it stands, Warp is the golden goose. Its output is eclectic; its ability to sniff out new talent – Ayoade, Considine, Mark Tonderai – is unrivalled. Critically its films are lauded. Recent excursions into comedy with Submarine and Four Lions have proved that it is all-conquering and still a magnet for new talent like Ben Wheatley, the man behind Kill List and Sightseers.
Now it’s time for a family film. Just don’t look too deeply into the shadows for fear of a nasty surprise…