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pages from a cold island: DON'T TRUST THE STARS

A survey of memorable acting.
Nonso Anozie - in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) - has only a single scene as Ezra, the charismatic, gently-spoken chiropractor who sorts out the heroine's dodgy back. But in the same way as Ezra near-instantly eases Poppy's sacral tensions, Anozie performs similar deft magic on the movie itself - adding a crucial measure of graceful calm to a confection that had been threatening to fizz away into shrill hyperactivity. Six years ago, at 23, he was he youngest ever Lear on the professional stage. A hefty six-six, he's since been gently tiptoeing into movies via Atonement, Cass and Rocknrolla.
Perry Benson and Dido Miles - in Steven Shiel's Mum & Dad (2008) - play a fortysomething couple sort-of modelled on Gloucester serial-killers Fred and Rose West. The low-budget shocker has its scripting problems, but Benson and Miles don't let that bother them: they prove chillingly adept at switching back and forth between the quotidian business of jolly family life and grim episodes of psychopathic, uninhibited sadism. Both actors are veterans of multi-episode British TV, and here relish the opportunity to explore the further reaches of aberrant behaviour - nightmare zones where the small screen too rarely now dares to visit.
Johnny Harris - in Paul Andrew Williams' London To Brighton (2006) - is the rotten moral core around which this poundingly intense thriller revolves. Not that this is obvious from the early or middle stretches, where his Derek - a low-life, small-time London pimp, too business-oriented to ponder the ethics of his profession - is relatively peripheral. Indeed, it's very late indeed that we realise he's actually the villain of the piece - haplessly, comically unaware of his own turpitude, perhaps, but guilty all the same. And that's the absurd banality of evil, right there on Harris's startled, pudgy face.
Tamer Hassan - in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007) - is the nameless Chechen who ends up getting one in the eye, quite literally, at the end of the breathtakingly savage bath-house sequence. But even if that's the closest this genially beefy, 40-year-old ex-boxer from London gets to going down in cinema history, he's a safe bet to continue punching about his weight in secondary roles for the foreseeable: his contributions to undemanding Cockney-geezer fare like The Football Factory and The Business, while impressive, hint at considerable, as yet barely-tapped depths which younger British directors should now attempt to explore.
Daniel Mays - in Mike Leigh's All Or Nothing (2002) - is the actor in this list whose movie came out the longest ago, but the things he does with the role of 'psychotic boyfriend' Jason mean he can't be left off any survey of British cinema's most noteworthy un- and  semi-knowns. Somehow lanky and bulky, Mays barrels through the picture with an alarming, wayward laddishness: a personification of unbiddable, unbridlable youth which one senses even Leigh isn't sure how to handle. He's since indicated considerable range in Vera Drake, etc, and is reportedly splendid in Eran Creevy's upcoming Shifty.
Simon McBurney - in Ridley Scott's Body of Lies (2008) - is one of a trio of supporting players engaged in a secret, unacknowledged roundelay of scene-stealing: whirring termites whose combined energy keeps the white elephant in something akin to motion  Nominal stars DiCaprio and Crowe have little chance against Mark Strong (silky-sinister Jordanian fixer), Jamil Khory (perfect and near-mute as Strong's henchman) and Theatre de Complicite founder McBurney, whose tea-sipping computer-boffin Garland is an offhand encapsulation of omniscient, crafty eccentricity, tossed off in the lightest, most indelible of askance feather-strokes. Hollywood clearly has his number - and vice versa.
Jack O'Connell - in James Watkins' Eden Lake (2008) - is a classic example of an outstanding performance placed at the service of a truly dreadful movie. The film is a near-unwatchably crass and opportunistic attempt to remake Deliverance according to the prejudices and fears of reactionary Middle England - with O'Connell as Brett, a strutting, bad-influence teenage lout personifying that current UK folk-demon, the yob-culture "chav." A rat-faced ball of solipsistic fury, O'Connell - latest graduate of the ever-reliable Shane Meadows talent academy - is so chillingly volatile he's utterly unrecognisable as the easy-going 'Puke' from This Is England.
Ray Stevenson - in Steve Barker's Outpost (2008) - is unquestionably the lead, incarnating the latest in his long line of bluff, bulldog-faced, soldierly "man's men" in a muddled, rather silly low-budget Nazi-zombie-horror that the Ulster-born, 6'4" Geordie elevates towards watchability through sheer main force. He's also pretty prominent in TV's Rome - as warrior's warrior Titus Pullo - and is the new Frank Castle in the $20m Punisher sequel, War Zone. But, rather like Sir Stanley Baker five decades ago, the 44-year-old Stevenson will essentially always be a scene-dominating, load-carrying character-player, regardless of his role's prominence, station or rank.
Kathryn Worth - in Joanna Hogg's Unrelated (2007) - is only one of two startlingly accomplished, bafflingly belated feature debutantes, the other being writer-director Hogg herself. The film - an unclassifiable, penetrating study of class and social unease among the British bourgeoisie in Tuscany - is a tight ensemble constructed, and constricting, around Worth's mousy, fortyish Anna. The latter's painful lack of self-confidence should in theory make her rather infuriating company over the course of 100-odd minutes, but Worth somehow turns self-effacement into the most compulsive and magnetic of traits. Where on earth can she have been languishing until now?
William Ash, Florence Hoath and Russell Tovey have been seen much more TV than in film - but their eyecatching Doctor Who turns should lure more big-screen work. Julian (Mighty Boosh) Barratt should take over as The Doctor, and is an undervalued potential asset for British cinema. Ditto Simon Russell Beale and Paola Dionosotti (who too seldom stray from the stage), Nick Caldecott (radio) and Bryan Dick (telly). And surely nobody needs to be told about Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine and David Morrissey - top-drawer actors, now so prominent that they regretfully, narrowly fall beyond the remit of this article.
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“pages from a cold island” is a monthly dispatch from the British film scene

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