Holly Kelly, Kelli Hollis and Michael Taylor in Mischief Night

Mischief Night



At a time when British film-makers generally are accepting the “multiculturalism rules, ok” status quo, former documentarian Penny Woolcock lights a match in a fume-filled room with an examination of life among the working classes in Leeds. Shane Meadows meets Shameless is the result, to a degree. Does that sound dull? Because the film isn’t at all. Instead Woolcock infuses her drama with a wild pantomime spirit, an unruly bawdiness that’s reflected in the set-ups, characters and dialogue. Set across a park, on one side of which live the whites, on the other the “Pakis”, the focus falls on Tina (Kelli Hollis), a local white goodtime girl with three kids by different dads, and her family’s interactions with a nearby Asian clan, the action building towards “mischief night” – a local variant on Halloween – when good natured pranks teeter on the edge of something much more serious. All our current faves are here – single mums, “grim up north” stereotypes, the niqab, smack, shooters, Osama Bin Laden, everything shot through with a dour, bleak humour. One schoolkid to another: “My mum’s a smackhead.” The other schoolkid back: “My mum’s a dinner lady.”

Meanwhile, on the Asian side of the park where he lives with his extended family, Immie (Ramon Tikaram) only realises how culturally Asian he isn’t when his hot-from-Pakistan wife turns up, jabbering away in a language that isn’t his, and demanding sex he’s reluctant to give. Meanwhile, a self-appointed local Imam is laughed at by the local white girls, all of whom he slept with before he became born-again devout, while Asian kids shout “go home Paki” to passing strangers. It hadn’t always been like this, as Tina tells her daughter Kimberley (Holly Kelly), the two communities had once lived together, but somehow they drifted apart. Complicated, this multi-culture business.

Life and its dark ironies is what the film is about, but beneath the comedy, Woolcock suggests that cultural differences have hardened, the two-way traffic between whites and Asians isn’t as fluid as it once was. Even so, this is a less hysterical view of multiculturalism than you get in the newspapers – though the cultures living side by side can rub each other up the wrong way, they generally rub along. And the conflicts are often an externalisation of tensions within communities and families, not between them. There’s no banging the drum for immigration control here.

Perhaps there are too many plots, and perhaps Woolcock isn’t always sure how comedic she wants the film to be, an uneasiness reflected in its soundtrack – a sort of municipal city council ragga. But it’s a tough and unusual film that’s willing to turn over the stone to reveal a fecund chaos beneath.



Mischief Night – Watch it now at Amazon





© Steve Morrissey 2006




4 thoughts on “Mischief Night”

  1. This is a bit of a 'slice of life' type movie. The plot isn't really the key thing, it seems. Two poor families live near each other in Leeds, UK, on either side of a large park. On one side of the park Pakistanis reside, white English families on the other. The families are kind of parallel– both are dysfunctional, both are breeding criminal children, and unhappy and desperate lives for them. Sounds depressing— but the two families in focus have a spark of goodness and humanity in them— the white one from the mother, the Pakistani one from an elder son. The white family has 3 children by 3 fathers; kind of an extra-loose family. The Pakistanis have arranged marriages and strict rules— kind of an extra-tight family. AND… this is sort of a comedy, too. Although there is plenty of violence, and serious themes throughout.

    This is not a typical movie by any means. But it is surprisingly uplifting, and not at all grim. Sounds grim, doesn't it? Somehow, it's not— it's kind of inspiring, kind of funny. Kelli Hollis, the actress who plays the white mother, was in TV's 'Shameless'. This movie has a similar vibe— yobs as clowns. 'How low can they go???' the movie seems to ask. And they do go lower and lower. But then, you really begin to understand and respect and LIKE many of the characters. Nice job, that. Kind of like hillbillies on acid— with a mildly happy ending.

  2. For the information of the poster who asked. Mischief Night. A British tradition on Halloween before the more recent invasion of the appallingly PC and American sickly sweet "Trick or Treat" aberration. In which no doors were knocked on except with the intention of running away before they were answered, garden gnomes moved gardens, washing (if anyone was daft enough to leave it out) hung from trees in the company of toilet rolls, fireworks were set off early in privet hedges or outside toilet pans, black bin liners were stuck over the outside of peoples windows with news sheets posted about the end of the world coming tomorrow morning and door handles at the front and back became linked with washing line. You couldn't buy off mischiefers with treats you either went to bed hoping for the best, sat listening behind your door with a rolled up newspaper ready to give chase or you were out perpetrating mischief. A time before weed had killed energy and creativity in British youth along with the ability to persevere in difficult circumstances that weren't brought on by your parent/s (people often had two in those days) needing to live an "Eastenders" life. The sort of Eastenders life in fact, fairly roughly but honestly portrayed in this depressing comedy. Not that it doesn't have many funny moments but overall the life being led by the white family in this film is close enough to reality for anyone who deals with todays young people to know that there isn't any escape from it. Rather like the far funnier but equally hopeless "Royal Family" it ridicules a reality which has been encouraged by a well-meaning nanny state with no apparent clue as to what constantly supporting people in their mistakes and inadequacy does to their self worth. Uplifting to some effect but that's the only part (as with Heavens Above starring Peter Sellers) that fails to ring true.

  3. This is such a brilliant film. Funny, fresh and honest. Set somewhere in northern england it charts the lives of two families, the Khans and the Crabtree's. Their worlds are divided by a Park set between the two streets they live in. But the script tackles some provocative issues that are very much relevant to a society where diversity is not always welcomed. It's witty, brilliantly acted and the cast are both professional and locally cast. Though you'd never know which is which. The film is directed with great assurance and control by Penny Woolcock who also wrote the script. You sense a real respect from her about the characters in her story and there is nothing patronising about the community she writes about. Just great humanity. There is nothing formulaic about it and it is always surprising in it's inventiveness. A terrific watch. Photography by Robbie Ryan (a talent to watch out for) is full of energy and flair.

  4. A great film, offering a slice of life in present-day Leeds that most of us would rather not know about. The plot is almost incidental. The film's success lies in the portraits of the two families, one native white, the other second-generation Pakistani and their complex love-hate relationships. Kelly Hollis is superb as the gutsy single mother with three kids by different fathers, coping on her own with the racial antagonisms that have blown up in Leeds since her own childhood.

    The flimsy storyline follows the youngest lad as he and his mates prepare for Mischief Night, when children (or at least white children in Yorkshire) are allowed to create havoc by playing tricks on adults. The more subtle interactions are in the Pakistani community, where the older daughter is resisting an arranged marriage, the older son cannot communicate with his Pakistani wife except by meeting her incessant demands for sex, and the local drug dealer is hired to sort out the Jihadi extremists.

    The characters are for the most part grotesque, but with enough humour – the dialogue is particularly strong in every sense – to make them both watchable and believable. The acting is splendid, especially by the youngsters, and the visual portraits of the streets and houses of the two communities are vibrant. A bleak but absorbing, funny and eventually heart-warming film.

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