Part of Channel 4âs âComing Upâ? season, which will be showcasing the talented aspiring writers and directors over the next month or so, comes New Cross, a half-hour short about forbidden love.
The filmâs protagonist is Carl, whose been in a terrible state of depression since his mother died some years ago. He lives in an awful flat and he struggles with social interaction, especially when speaking to girls. In fact, his foul-mouthed friend – we learn in the opening minutes of the programme – is greatly concerned that Carlâs dick might disappear itâs been so long that heâs been intimate with someone.
âFor him to get attention from women is completely baffling. Itâs not something that heâs used to at all,â? says Russell Tovey when I spoke to him.
Russell might be playing a nervous introvert, but he couldnât be more different than his hapless character in real life. Bouncy and talkative, heâs secure in his own skin and his dick, I can only imagine, is in no danger of disappearing. But nevertheless, he does admit that he relates to Carl in some ways.
âWell, weâve all felt lonely, havenât we?â? he asks. âAnd weâve all â at least I have â had obsessions with people who you think youâre in love with.â?
In New Cross, Carlâs obsession is a teenage girl (Alice Saunders) with confidence and the sexual prowess of a much older woman. He meets her at a club that heâs been forced to go to by his friends. At first, he resists her advances, but eventually gives in and sleeps with her, only to find out later that sheâs just fifteen-years-old.
âAs their relationship blossoms, your reaction as a viewer is to say, âLet them get on with it,ââ? Russell explains. âBut you canât obviously because sheâs just a child.â?
Alice does an excellent job of playing the classic Lolita. Sheâs believable as both a confident young woman and as a naÃ¯ve teenage girl and it puts the viewer in an awkward position.
âHeâs less emotionally mature than she is, and so it makes things difficult. In a way, he seems like a child,â? Russell says.
Perhaps where New Cross falters is when it tries to be funny. Carlâs friend, for example, too often treads the fine line between being a loveable, amusing prick and just being thoroughly odious and unlikable. One moment heâs making a light-hearted joke about boning women and the next heâs yelling, âWELL, AT LEAST IâM NOT A PAEDOPHILE!â? at his supposed buddy.
At times it feels as if itâs trying to cover too much ground in too short a space of time, which results in a few underdeveloped secondary characters. But what makes New Cross interesting is that it manages to make you feel conflicted about Carlâs relationship. Youâre invested in it from the start and so thereâs a part of you that genuinely wants it to work out for him. Heâs a likable character and one that you struggle to turn your back on.
âThe budget for the programme was small,â? Russell admits. âBut it was great to work on. Everyone wanted to be there and everybody wanted to make really good work. I think Lauraâs writing and Davidâs directing is fantastic, and Alice, I think, is fantastic. She never once seemed like the younger, less-experienced actress.
âItâs the kind of thing that ends up at festivals, but this is getting a proper screening on terrestrial TV, so people are going to be able to see something thatâs very unique and very British.â?
It might not be essential television by any means, but in terms of introducing new talent, New Cross certainly succeeds. It shows promise, and it should be interesting to see what Laura Neal and David Stoddart will deliver in the future.