Release: 7th May
Director: Robert Heath
Starring: Ralph Brown, Clint Dyer, Rafe Spall
Verdict: Arresting and provoking
As I write this, the county is probably one day away from a Tory government. On the eve-or indeed in the wake of an election about fundamental change to our society, I cannot think of a more relevant film than Sus.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be this way. Written as a piece of ‘instant political theatre’ in 1979 and set on the night of Thatcher’s election, Sus is an exploration of institutional prejudices, the nature of law enforcement, and just how seriously we should treat every erosion of liberty that governments, old and new, try to make us complicit in.
A little background: the titular Sus laws made it a crime for ‘a suspected person or reputed thief to frequent or loiter in a public place with intent to commit an arrestable offence’. Essentially, they gave police the power to arrest anyone based purely on suspicion. These laws were directly responsible for the intense race rioting of the early eighties, which led to their abolishment.
The film centres on a single police interrogation, played out between Delroy (Clint Dyer), a young black man, and his two police interviewers, played by Ralph Brown and Rafe Spall. Delighted by the prospect of a Tory landslide, the two policemen mix cheerful banter about the Thatch and callous interrogation with terrifying ease. From the minute the film begins the audience’s discomfort is ratcheted up as the dynamic between Delroy and his interviewers grows steadily more sinister.
Considering the whole film is set in a single room, Sus lives or dies on its performances. I felt on occasion Spall’s performance was slightly theatrical, but then again he was also the scariest thing about the whole film, so consider it a minor gripe. Dyer and Brown are also excellent, never letting the tension relent for a second. In a film filled with minute attention to character’s expressions and emotions, that’s no mean feat.The production itself is simple and tight. We are introduced to the film via a montage of election footage and rioting, and Thatcher’s sound bites mock us in a fantastic final tracking shot, but aside from that there are few cinematic flourishes. Like many theatre to film adaptations, it does suffer slightly from the limitations of the source material. The direction is nicely varied within the space of the interrogation room, with tracking shots and blurred close-ups of characters expressions adding some welcome variety, but ultimately you are watching a filmed play. Whether this bothers you is a matter of personal taste.
Either way, Sus is a film to make you think twice about political doublespeak, and the reasonable limitations of our own freedom as you stand in the ballot box.